Starting from April 6, 2024, UK employees will have the right to request flexible working arrangements from the first day of their new job.

Currently, employees in the UK have a right to request flexible working arrangements only after working at least 26 weeks. The implementation of these regulations aims to provide employees with greater flexibility and work-life balance. However, in December 2023, a study found that seven out of ten employees (70%) are unaware of this impending change in employment legislation, which will mandate employers to handle such requests in a reasonable manner, ensuring fair consideration and timely responses.

Employer Responsibilities in Handling Requests

Employers are required to deal with flexible working requests in a ‘reasonable manner.’ This includes assessing the pros and cons of the application, engaging in a discussion with the employee, and offering an appeal process. Failing to handle a request reasonably may lead to potential legal consequences, as employees can take their case to an employment tribunal. Employers can only refuse an application if they have a valid business reason.

The regulations encompass various forms of flexible working arrangements to cater to diverse needs. These include job sharing, remote working or working from home, hybrid working combining remote and office work, part-time work, compressed hours (full-time hours over fewer days), flexitime allowing employees to choose their start and end times within agreed limits, annualised hours offering flexibility over the year, staggered hours, and phased retirement.

Applying for Flexible Working

Employees can make a statutory application for flexible working if they have worked continuously for the same employer for the last 26 weeks. The application process involves the employee writing to the employer, the employer considering the request within three months (two months from April 6, 2024), and making necessary changes to the employee’s contract if the request is approved. Employees are allowed to make one application in any 12-month period, increasing to two applications from April 6, 2024.

Employees can submit their flexible working requests via email or letter, with some employers potentially using a standard form for consistency. The application should include the date, a statement indicating it’s a statutory request, details of the desired flexible working arrangement, an explanation of the potential impact on the business, and any previous flexible working applications.

After the Application

Employers must consider flexible working requests in a reasonable manner, typically making a decision within three months. However, starting from April 6, 2024, employers will need to make a decision within two months. If the application is approved, the employer should provide a statement of the agreed changes and a start date for flexible working, updating the employee’s contract within 28 days. In case of rejection, the employer must communicate the decision along with valid reasons.

While employees no longer have a statutory right to an appeal, employers offering an appeals process demonstrate handling requests reasonably. The employee can follow the company’s procedures for appealing. If issues arise due to a rejected application, the employee or employer can follow the company’s procedures for solving workplace disputes. Complaints to an employment tribunal are valid if the employer did not handle the request reasonably, incorrectly treated the application as withdrawn, or mistreated the employee due to the flexible working request.

These regulatory changes mark a significant step towards fostering a more adaptable and inclusive work environment, aligning with evolving expectations in the modern workforce. Additionally, employers are urged to familiarise themselves with the updated guidelines and ensure compliance for a seamless transition to the new framework.