The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act has been discussed for a while and has been brought in to address the global shift happening in the workplace.

It’s not just a UK initiative. The European Union (EU) has brought in the work-life balance directive. Along with other measures, it also introduces similar flexible working measures.

The UK legislation effectively mirrors the EU legislation.

Flexible working is here to stay, and businesses will have to adapt their approach to create an attractive workplace for current staff and attract new talent.

A recent Acas survey found that 30% of employers have seen an increase in staff working from home in the past year.

These working conditions have contributed £37bn annually to the UK economy, while businesses that refused to adapt to these working conditions cost the UK economy £2bn annually.

In this article, we’ll discuss the Act’s highlights, what it means for your business, what changes you’ll need to implement, what new systems you’ll need to have in place, and how you can communicate all of that to your employees.

Here’s what we cover:

What is the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act?

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act is more than just a legislative requirement. It’s a fundamental reinvention of how your employees (and your business) operate.

This Act provides employees and workers with more rights regarding flexible working, especially regarding employment terms such as working hours and employment location.

Acas chief executive Susan Clews said: “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.”

With the Act, your business can promote flexible working conditions, attract new talent, retain your current employees, reimagine the future of work, and build a resilient workforce that can quickly adapt to any new challenges.

For that to happen, businesses have to adapt their current systems and workflows to suit this new way of working.

When did the Act come into force?

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act came into effect on 6 April 2024. This bill offers employees an unseen amount of rights when it comes to demanding flexible working conditions.

However, this isn’t a move that just helps employees. It will help employers, too.

The Act is designed to nudge businesses to start using flexible working conditions, which can actually help to boost their performance.

You’ll have access to more people and you’ll have different ways how you can use the strengths of these people to achieve your business results.

However, it will require a certain level of adaptability.

HR leaders need to reassess the workplace policies and practices to ensure that they fit into the new flexible working models.

The goal is operational effectiveness and efficiency and the HR leaders should create processes that would enable that, taking flexible working conditions into account.

What’s the definition of flexible working?

Flexible working conditions involve workplace arrangements that provide certain flexibility to employees regarding their work duration, location, and time of working.

Here’s a selection of flexible working conditions:

  • Part-time working: With part-time work, employees often work fewer days per week.
  • Compressed working hours: A nine-day fortnight or 4/10 schedule is a form of compressed hours, where employees complete full-time hours in a compressed timeline.
  • Flexitime: Employees can choose when they start and end their work times, and typically have a core set of hours when they need to be available and working.
  • Job sharing: Dividing the workload of a single job to multiple people, usually two individuals.
  • Staggered hours: This is where the employees have distinct start, finish, and break times, usually different than their colleagues (usually in the service and manufacturing industries).
  • Hybrid working: Employees sometimes work from the office (in-house) and sometimes from a different location, such as a home or co-working space (remote).

Flexible working changes that have come into force

Business and trade minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “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.”

So let’s see what’s changed with this new Act.

  • Request flexible working from day one: With the previous Act, employees had to work a full 26 weeks (six months) for the employer before they could ask for flexible working conditions. With the Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations, employees can request flexible working from day one of their employment.
  • Explaining the effects: Before the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act, employees had to explain to their employer what kind of an effect this change would have on the business and how an employer should deal with that. With the new Act, employees are no longer required to do so.
  • Time limit to reply: Before the Act, the timeframe to reply to the flexible working request from the employee was three months. Now, that’s been reduced to two months.
  • Mandatory consultation: You can’t refuse an employee’s request for flexible working unless you first consult with them. What it means is that you need to have a meeting with your employee to explain why they won’t have their request accepted.
  • Number of requests per year: Before the Act, the employee could request flexible working once every 12 months. With the new Act, the employee can demand flexible working twice per year.

When an employee requests flexible working conditions, their requests will have to be in written form and:

  • Be dated
  • State that they’re applying for flexible working conditions
  • Specify the changes they seek from their current employment conditions
  • State when they made their previous application for such terms (if any).

With the new rules, employees can ask for a change in:

  • The number of hours they work
  • When they start or finish work
  • What days their work
  • The location of their work.

What hasn’t changed with regards to flexible working

There are also some things that haven’t changed with the new regulation:

Permanent or temporary changes

Employees can still request changes to their working hours, specific working days, or their working location.

These requests can be permanent or temporary.

No right to flexible working

Even though the new Act makes it easier for employees to request flexible working, it’s not a right to flexible working.

Employers can and still have the option to refuse the request from employees to flexible working.

Reasons to decline flexible working have stayed the same

These reasons are still in place and are:

  • The change will cost the business too much
  • The inability to distribute their workload to the team
  • You can’t recruit additional team members to pick up the work
  • It will have a negative effect on the quality of the service/product
  • The business won’t be able to meet the customer’s demand
  • Performance will start to lack
  • The demanded shifts won’t have enough work for the employee (weekends, evenings)
  • The requested change doesn’t fit with the current business plans.

7 steps employers need to take now

Considering the new Act is in effect, you’ll have to speed up your adaption process and ensure you’re aligned with it (if your business isn’t already).

Here are seven steps to take right now:

  • Ensure your employees are aware of the new rules and what they need to do when it comes to requesting flexible working. This is important as seven out of 10 employees are unaware of the changes, according to Acas.
  • Create a consultation process when you’re going to reject a flexible working request. Having the entire process set on paper would help keep up with all the necessary steps.
  • Ensure you have a fast approval/rejection process that’s aligned with the new Act (two-month deadline).
  • Educate your managers about the new Act to ensure they’re up to speed with the latest changes. They need to be well-informed about it to ensure the process runs smoothly.
  • Prepare to receive additional requests for a flexible working schedule (employees can demand it twice a year).
  • Use the changes from the Act to attract new talent. CIPD stated that around two million workers changed jobs in 2023 because they lacked flexibility at their current jobs. You can attract a portion of this talent if you market your working conditions as flexible.
  • Review the Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requests. This will help you ensure that you’ve covered all bases.

Final thoughts

The enactment of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act has brought many changes to how businesses operate daily, especially regarding flexible working conditions for employees.

The businesses that adapt to these changes can use the Act to attract great talent and provide their current staff with favourable working conditions that would motivate them to stay with the company, while also helping them to improve their productivity.


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