How to get ready for the UK’s new legislation on flexible working
Flexibility Works Webinar UK Flexible Working Legislation Changes
September 1, 2023
September 1, 2023

We held a brilliant webinar this week running through what employers need to know about forthcoming changes in UK law around flexible working, and how to ensure your organisation will be ready.

If you missed it, you can watch our recorded version, or read on for a summary of what was said.

Our speakers were:

  • Michael McLaughlin, Shoosmiths Partner and expert in employment law
  • Dawn McFarlane, Managing Director at Scotia Homecare Solutions
  • Kirsten Oswald, SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Women and Equalities
  • Steve Collinson, Chief HR Officer, Zurich

Michael McLaughlin - Flexibility WorksWhat is changing?

Michael McLaughlin talked through four key changes employers need to know.

1. Employees will be able to make two requests for flexible working in any 12-month period.

Currently, employees can only make one.
He said employers need to think about how they will handle secondary requests, which are most likely if the first request has been refused, or hasn’t gone far enough for the employee, and that employers should consider involving different managers to those who decided first time round.

2. Employers will have an obligation to consult with an employee before refusing a request.

Currently this isn’t required.
Michael said it was not clear what ‘consult’ meant from a legal perspective, though we’ll add as Flexibility Works that we know Acas is drawing up a code of practice on handling flexible working requests to support the new law, and we expect this to define best practice consultation. Watch this space…

3. Employers will need to respond to requests within two months.

Currently the timeframe is three months.

4. There won’t be an obligation on employees to explain how the request will impact the employer.

Currently employees have to include this in their request and provide detail on how this could be dealt with.
Michael said that, in reality, the employee may still need to ‘persuade’ their employer of the benefits of their request but that instead of doing this in writing, it would likely happen verbally during any consultation activity.

Michael noted that the headline-grabbing ‘day one’ right to request flexible working wasn’t in the new legislation. Again, as a side note from us at Flexibility Works, the Department for Business and Trade has assured us the UK Government fully intends to bring in a ‘day one’ right to request flex. It’s just the way our system works for creating new laws that this element will appear via a different route – see our web page on flexible working law for more detail if you’re interested. Michael said the ‘day one’ right to request flex wouldn’t make much difference to employers because if someone needs flexibility, they will secure it before they start a new job, not ask for it when they arrive for their first day.

When asked what employers should do to get ready, Michael said: “If you are open minded to flexible working, then you are ready. You can work the policies through but the real difficulty comes when you end up with a dispute because the employee wants an unreasonable request, or – more often – because line managers just want to see people sat in their chairs. You get ready by being open to it.”

Dawn McFarlane - Flexibility WorksCreating flex in care roles

Dawn McFarlane spoke about how her company, Scotia Homecare Solutions, provides care at home services.

She said that when new staff join, they are asked about their preferences on days and hours. Some people only work weekends, later shifts, or on certain days of the week, for example.

She said the company invested time and resource in putting together rotas with additional staff and an app to help but she said the return on investment was well worth it.

Dawn said: “By investing in our staff, we can see the difference in reliability, commitment and service, not to mention financially. With staff numbers sitting at 60, we had less than five days sickness across the business last month. The previous month we had three days.”

She said while the care sector was notorious for staff shortages, offering flexible working meant she’d never struggled to recruit. She said flexible working had led to a number of business benefits including:

  • the number of applications received
  • lower turnover
  • referrals from existing staff – which has created a momentum of applications
  • higher retention rate
  • better service and continuity for clients

Neil Gray - Flexibility Works

Upskilling managers

Neil Gray, Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, said in a recorded a message: “This new legislation has the potential to help support businesses to achieve stronger productivity, economic growth and greater wellbeing. It’s important that employers and businesses take the time now to familiarise themselves with the new changes that will come into place, adjusting internal flexible working policies to reflect these and upskilling line managers in advance will all help when the law comes into force.”

 

 

Kirsten Oswald - Flexibility WorksFrom single parents to older workers (and many other groups in between)

Kirsten Oswald, SNP Westminster spokesperson for women and equalities, echoed Neil Gray’s sentiments about how the Scottish Government was broadly supportive of the new legislation. Though she said it still put the onus on the employee to ask when many were not comfortable to do so, and the legislation would be better if it gave workers a right to work flexibly from day one, not just a right to request flex from day one.

She noted that flexible working was a helpful tool in reducing economic activity, whether that was for single parents juggling childcare commitments, or as a way to keep knowledgeable older workers in the work force. She said that allowing and encouraging flexible working made it easier for more people to get into the labour market and to sustain their place. And she added that flexible working improved employee mental health and wellbeing, which in turn ‘boosted productivity and quality of work’ for employers.

She said: “Organisations that look after their staff and break down barriers to allow staff to achieve their potential are much more likely to reap the benefits from a business perspective.”

Kirsten also mentioned the increase in Real Living Wage accredited employers (now at 2,900 in Scotland, up from just 14 in 2014) and how this was ‘another part of the jigsaw’ in creating fair work.

Steven Collinson - Flexibility WorksImpact of flexible recruitment at Zurich (hard data!)

Steve Collinson talked about how insurance firm Zurich took part in a UK Government backed trial in 2017/18 looking at measures to reduce the gender pay gap.

The company started advertising all roles with the option of ‘part-time, full-time, job share or flexible working’ stated clearly in adverts.

 

As a direct result:

  • the number of applicants for each role doubled
  • around 45% more women were hired into senior roles
  • five times more women were hired in part time roles than before the initiative started
  • the number of men working part time part time tripled
  • part time workers made up 13.5% of all Zurich UK hires in 2022, up from 10.7% in 2021 and 6.5% in 2019.

Steve said that while the initial trial was specifically about increasing the number of senior women in the organisation, the impact data ‘super-charged’ Zurich’s whole approach to flexible working for everyone.

He said that even people who don’t need flexible working say the flex on offer tells them ‘something fantastic about the culture here’.

Steve said Zurich was like all organisations in that his team had had some difficult conversations with hiring managers about how they wanted new recruits to work but that these were crucial conversations to help change the culture around flexible working.

Hiring managers are encouraged to think more creatively when designing new roles. For example, if there’s budget for a full time role, the money could be used for a part time role AND something else, and managers are encouraged to work across teams when creating other flexible roles, such as job shares.

His final remarks reminded employers that flexible working isn’t just for parents. And he said: “Stop making it about cost. This pays back in loyalty, retention and fantastic engagement.”


Next steps

1. Review and update your policies

Keep an eye out for the forthcoming Acas code of practice for managing flexible working requests.

2. Train your managers

They need to know the detail of what’s changing in the law. But they also need to understand the wider business benefits of offering flexible working, and to feel confident managing people who work differently. If you’re interested in a half-day workshop for managers, covering these points and more, contact us at hello@flexibilityworks.org

3. Go beyond ‘day one’ and talk about flex in recruitment

We hope our speakers showed how much employers and workers have to gain from roles being advertised as flexible. Mention flexible working in job adverts, be as specific as you can on the kinds of flexibility available for each role, and ensure hiring managers ask candidates about flexible working preferences during interview.

4. Don’t wait for the legislation, your people and your business can benefit now

We expect the legislation to come into force in the summer of 2024. But you don’t need to wait until then to make changes. Offering greater flex from the get-go can help you recruit better quality candidates from a wider talent pool, hang on to your best people, boost productivity and help your staff feel happier and heathier too. Why wait?


 

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