The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill is due to come into effect next year, giving individuals additional employment rights. 
Workers will have the right to request flexible working (including working hours, patterns or location) from day one of a new job and can make two requests in any 12-month period (previously this was limited to one). When making a request, employees no longer need to explain the impact that flexible working would have or how the employer might deal with that impact. 
 
Employers’ obligations have also changed, with the period for responding reduced from 3 months to 2. If rejecting a request, they must consult with the employee and provide a reason for rejection. 
 
 
ACAS code of practice 
ACAS is updating its Code of Practice for handling flexible working requests to reflect the changes. At the same time, they plan to bring it up to date with cultural and practical changes since Covid, technology and an increase in flexible working. 
 
The updated guide will provide clarity on what 'consultation' should involve, with a new section suggesting the employer arrange a formal meeting with the employee before rejecting the request, giving the parties chance to consider alternative arrangements which may suit them both. 
 
The existing Code states that an employer should allow an employee to be accompanied by a work colleague (although this is best practice rather than a legal right). Acas plans to broaden this to include a trade union representative or official, bringing it in line with the (statutory) right to accompaniment in disciplinary and grievance meetings. 
 
Acas also plans to include a section on rights under the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill, which is currently before Parliament. This bill, if passed, will give employees a right to request predictable working patterns, and so there is potential for the two rights to impact on each other. 
 
This Code is currently under consultation, with the option for respond closing at midnight on 6 September 2023. 
 
 
Demand for flexibility 
Flexible working has become more widespread, and more in demand, since the pandemic highlighted the possibilities for flexible working. 39% of employers say they are more likely to grant requests for flexible working than they were before the pandemic.  Figures from Ifo Institute for Economic Research show that Britain has the highest rate of remote working in Europe, with an average 1.5 days each week against an international average of 0.9 days 
 
A flexible working pattern is important to 71% of job seekers when choosing a role, while 69% say the ability to work remotely is important. Only pay and benefits are more important. Working from home on a regular basis (37%) and informal flexibility (31%) are the most common types of flexibility. When asked what arrangements people would use in their roles, the highest number would like a four-day week (46%), informal flexibility (40%), flexitime (39%) and working from home on a regular or ad hoc basis (39%). 
 
While 59% of employers can easily support the number of people wanting to work from home, 21% are struggling to accommodate the demand. However, businesses that don’t accommodate flexible working may find it harder to attract and retain staff. 6% of employees (2 million individuals) changed jobs last year due to a lack of flexibility, an increase from 4% last year. 12% (4 million workers) left their profession/sector altogether – up from 9% last year. 
 
Employees with a disability or long-term health condition are significantly more likely to change jobs (21%) or leave their profession (32%) due to lack of flexibility, suggesting that flexible working is not only a perk but a diversity consideration. Where flexibility is a reasonable adjustment, refusing the arrangements without good reason could be discriminatory. 
 
But the increase in flexibility could well be a good thing for your business. 38% of organisations say productivity/efficiency has improved with more flexible working, with just 13% saying the organisation’s productivity/efficiency decreased. Almost half (46%) of businesses think that employees in their organisation are generally more productive when they are working from home or in a hybrid way. 
 
 
How can I prepare? 
39% of organisations already offer a day-one right to request flexible working (an increase from 36% last year) and 14% now plan to introduce this before the legislation change. We don’t yet have an exact date for when the new rules will take effect but you should start preparing now, to give you plenty of time to update your policies and practices. 
 
You might want to take inspiration from other businesses to prepare for more flexible working. Popular measures include making offices more collaborative spaces (44%), investing in the quality (40%) and quantity (40%) of technology, and providing more training for line managers (38%). 
 
You might also want to consider the process for requesting flexible working. Currently, only around half of employees feel comfortable asking for flexible working arrangements. You might not think this is a problem but, given that flexibility is a priority for so many workers and plenty of other workplaces will be offering flexible working, you could lose talented staff if you don’t make the process more welcoming. 
 
 
 
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