The United Kingdom’s Flexible Working Bill has received Royal Assent, paving the way for millions of British employees to have greater control over their work environments and schedules. This landmark legislation entitles workers to request flexible working arrangements from their first day in a new job. Employers are now mandated to consider these requests and, if rejected, provide a valid reason for the decision.

This Bill comes on the heels of a series of victories for workers, including a significant uplift in the National Minimum Wage and enhanced employment protections for parents and unpaid carers.

The Act, fulfilling a 2019 Manifesto commitment to foster flexible working, mandates employers to discuss and consider any requests made by their employees – who are now entitled to make two requests per year – within two months of a request, a decrease from the previous three-month period.

The term “flexible working” encompasses a variety of work arrangements including part-time, term-time, flexi-time, compressed hours, and adjusted start and finish times. It also covers the flexibility over workplace location, such as working from home or from a satellite office to reduce commuting times.

Beyond the apparent advantages to employees, these measures are also beneficial to British businesses. Studies have shown that companies embracing flexible working can attract more talent, increase staff motivation, and reduce staff turnover, thereby enhancing their productivity and competitiveness.

According to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 6% of employees switched jobs last year due to insufficient flexible options, and 12% exited their profession entirely due to a lack of sector-wide flexibility. These figures represent almost 2 and 4 million workers respectively.

Business and Trade Minister Kevin Hollinrake expressed his support for the bill:

“A happier workforce means increased productivity, and that’s why we’re backing measures to give people across the UK even more flexibility over where and when they work. Not only does flexible working help individuals fit work alongside other commitments – whether it’s the school drop off, studying or caring for vulnerable friends and family – it’s good business sense too, helping firms to attract more talent, increase retention and improve workforce diversity. I want to thank Yasmin Qureshi MP, and all the campaigners who have helped make this Bill a reality and improved the lives of workers across the UK.”

The new measures include:

  • New obligations for employers to discuss with the employee before rejecting their flexible working request.
  • Permission for employees to make two statutory requests in any 12-month period (up from one).
  • Decreased waiting times for decision-making from three months to two months.
  • Removal of the requirement for employees to explain the potential impact of their change request on the employer.

In addition to the Bill’s provisions, the Government is also soliciting evidence on non-statutory flexible working to deepen its understanding of labour market flexibility. The intent is to learn more about the role of informal flexible working in catering to the needs of both employers and employees.

Acas, the advisory, conciliation and arbitration service, will be revising its statutory Code of Practice in response to the legislation. The Code aims to provide clear explanations of the law on the statutory right to request flexible working, alongside good practice advice on handling requests reasonably.

Susan Clews, Acas Chief Executive, acknowledged the shift in global attitudes towards flexible working:

“There’s been a global shift and changed attitudes towards flexible working. It has allowed more people to better balance their working lives and employers have also benefitted from being an attractive place to work for staff that value flexibility. Our new draft Code encourages employers to take a positive approach to flexible working and addresses all the new changes in the Act. We are keen to get views to ensure that it is clear and relevant for the modern workplace.”

In light of the new legislation, charity Working Families—in partnership with the Government’s Flexible Working Taskforce and CIPD—is re-launching its ‘Happy to Talk Flexible Working’ strapline and logo to help employers understand the benefits of flexible working from the recruitment stage.

Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive of Working Families, emphasized the importance of flexible working:

“There are millions of parents and carers in the UK who rely on flexible working to enter and stay in employment. It is no longer a perk; for many, it is a necessity. But flexible working isn’t just good for people–it’s also good for business, and good for the economy. When employers implement flexible working effectively, they reap the benefits: from increased talent attraction and retention to better performance. We’re delighted to re-launch our Happy to Talk Flexible Working logo and strapline to support employers on their journey to creating high-performing, flexible workplaces.”

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD and Chair of the Government’s Flexible Working Taskforce, also highlighted the benefits of flexible working:

“By using the tagline ‘Happy To Talk Flexible Working’ in job advertisements, employers can open up recruitment to wider talent pools and create fairer and more inclusive workplaces. This transparency supports workers to ask for flexibility and helps to normalise the conversation for all groups. Many organisations are facing the dual challenges of skills shortages and talent retention issues and we know that offering flexible working can go a long way towards tackling these problems. Flexible working practices can include options on the hours people work, their working patterns and their location, for example hybrid working. Employers that use a range of approaches can ensure flexible working provision is fair and available to all types of workers regardless of their job or sector.”

The Government remains committed to making the UK the best place to work and grow a business. As such, it aims to foster a strong and flexible labour market that supports participation and economic growth. The measures in the Act are expected to take effect approximately a year after Royal Assent, providing employers with ample time to prepare for the changes. Acas is currently developing a statutory Code of Practice to support the Act’s measures, and a consultation is underway.