Navigating the new flexible working legislations: insights from Jones Chase Employment Lawyers

In this blog, Dean Jones, founder and managing partner of Jones Chase employment lawyers, shares insights into recent changes to UK flexible working regulations.

14th May 2024

To help employers better understand recent changes to UK flexible working regulations, we recently held a webinar with Dean Jones, founder and managing partner of Jones Chase employment lawyers. During this discussion, Flexa co-founder Molly Johnson-Jones and Dean Jones shared best practices for handling requests, legal risks, and creating a flexible work culture. In this blog, we will cover the main insights from the discussion and provide practical guidance for employers to deal with flexible working requests.

Six key changes to flexible working regulations

As of April 6th, 2023, several significant updates were made to the UK's flexible working regulations:

1. Employees can request flexible working from day one, rather than waiting 26 weeks. 

2. Employees can make two statutory requests in a 12-month period, up from one.

3. Employers must conclude the process within two months, reduced from three.

4. Employers are now required to consult with the employee if they intend to reject a request.

5. Employees no longer need to explain the potential impact of their request on the employer.

6. A new ACAS Code of Practice has been introduced, which tribunals must consider when deciding employment claims.

Ensuring fair and consistent evaluation of requests

To navigate these changes effectively, Dean recommends that employers:

  • Approach flexible working with an open mind from the outset, considering flexibility in job descriptions and interviews.
  • Familiarise themselves with the updated law and ACAS Code of Practice.
  • Seek alternatives and compromises, rather than outright rejecting requests.
  • Gather evidence to support decisions and keep thorough records.
  • Provide manager training on the new regulations and handling requests equitably.
  • Track flexible working decisions to identify and address any inconsistent patterns.

Molly emphasised the importance of transparency around flexible working practices throughout the hiring process. By showcasing their flexible environment upfront, companies can attract aligned talent and potentially reduce the volume of day-one requests.

Mitigating legal risks and pitfalls

While the statutory flexible working regime itself is relatively weak, with a maximum tribunal compensation of just £5,600 for breaches, Dean cautioned that mishandling requests could lead to claims under a vast body of related employment law. These include various forms of discrimination, constructive dismissal, breaches of part-time worker regulations, stress-related personal injury, and health and safety violations. Damages in these cases can be substantial.

To minimise risk, Dean advises employers to engage in open dialogue with employees, gather ample evidence to justify refusals based on genuine business needs, consider trial periods, and explore creative compromises. When representing individuals, his firm proactively incorporates potential statutory claims into flexible working requests to increase the likelihood of approval.

Creating a flexible work culture

Beyond legal compliance, the speakers discussed the importance of embracing flexibility as a cultural norm driven by senior leadership. Employers should approach flexibility as a spectrum, finding ways to offer adaptable arrangements even in roles where location and hours are less negotiable. This could include consistent schedules, enhanced benefits, and improved work-life balance.

When flexibility isn't feasible for certain positions, employers should clearly communicate the reasons, explore alternative arrangements, and ensure affected teams still feel valued. Creating a flexible working mission statement and embedding flexibility into company practices can help demonstrate commitment.

Employees requesting flexible arrangements are advised to start with an informal approach, clearly communicating how their proposed setup won't negatively impact productivity. If a formal request becomes necessary, they should proactively address potential employer concerns and highlight any statutory grounds supporting their case.

The webinar also covers attendee questions around topics like:

  • Preventing a two-tier workforce between flexible and frontline workers
  • Timing flexible work discussions in the hiring process
  • Providing home office equipment
  • Offering equitable compensation and benefits 

In summary, the new flexible working regulations present both challenges and opportunities for employers. By staying informed, communicating openly, embracing flexibility as a core value, and proactively minimising legal risks, organisations can create a more diverse, engaged, and productive workforce. The transition may not be easy, but with the right strategies and mindset, employers can navigate this new era of work successfully.