Navigating the changes to flexible working laws

Access LegalBy Siân Riley, Content & Thought Leadership Associate at Legal Futures Associate Access Legal

Flexibility in the way we work has undoubtedly become more prevalent in recent times, with various arrangements such as hybrid working and compressed hours gaining popularity. Recognising the benefits of flexible working for both employees and the economy, the government recently introduced new legislation aimed at increasing access to flexible working arrangements which took effect from 6 April 2024.

With the changes shifting more responsibility onto employers, requiring increased engagement with employees and quicker decision-making, law firm leaders must familiarise themselves with the new laws and ensure their working practices are up to date.

Here we delve into the changes, their implications for law firms and the essential actions to take.

Changes to flexible working laws

The Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023 introduce a Day One Right to flexible working, which means that all employees now have the statutory right to make flexible working requests from the first day of their employment (previously 26 weeks of continuous employment was required).

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 introduce further changes by way of:

  • Entitlement to two requests: employees can now submit two flexible working requests within any 12-month period (previously this was one request every 12 months).
  • Reduced response time: employers are now required to handle requests and appeals within two months, unless an extension is mutually agreed upon (previously the timescale was three months).
  • No justification required: employees are no longer obliged to explain the potential impact of their request on the business and how this could be mitigated within their application.
  • Mandatory consultation: employers must consult with employees regarding the practicalities and reasons for their request before making a decision, increasing the focus on transparency and compromise.

Understanding flexible working requests

A statutory request (by reference to the Employment Rights Act 1996 (as amended)) involves a proposed change to an employee’s terms and conditions concerning their hours, times, or place of work. From 6th April 2024, all workers legally classified as employees have the right to make such requests from day one of their employment. Provided that the employee hasn’t already made two flexible working requests within the previous 12 months and doesn’t currently have a live application of a similar nature, they can submit a flexible working request.

The need to act now!

Despite the right to request flexible working from day not yet being widely known about – an Acas survey reported on in December 2023 indicated that 7 out of 10 employees were unaware of the impending new right, employers cannot take advantage of this lack of awareness and must ensure they comply with the new laws. Failure to do so risks financial, reputational, and regulatory repercussions, as well as potential discrimination claims.

Moreover, it is worth considering that offering a range of flexible working arrangements helps to position the firm as an inclusive employer and is likely to be beneficial from a staff retention and talent attraction perspective. Research from the CIPD offers a sobering warning against failing to adapt to the changing times finding that around 4 million people have changed careers due to a lack of flexibility at work. With this in mind, investing in and prioritising flexible working isn’t just advisable; it is vital for sustainable business growth and success.

Actions to take:

  1. Review and update flexible working Policies: ensure your firm’s flexible working policies align with the new legislation and Acas’ revised Code of Practice on requests for flexible working. Access Legal has simplified this process by providing updated template policy documents as part of our Policies and Precedents for Law Firms library.
  2. Clarify internal processes: ensure there is a clear understanding as to who is responsible for what to support compliance with the reduced decision-making timeframe of two months.
  3. Inform and train managers: on how to handle requests fairly, reasonably and in compliance with additional legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 and when to seek input from HR.
  4. Promote Inclusivity: foster a culture of inclusivity by considering various flexible working arrangements and promoting adaptability within the business.
  5. Enable flexible working: implement secure case and practice management systems to mitigate cybersecurity risks associated with remote and hybrid working. Access Legal’s case management software is built with security and compliance in mind to help firms keep their clients’ data safe and secure – see our Cyber Security Hub for law firms for more information, which includes resources such as a free cyber security audit and a guide to cyber security for law firms.

To support firms in offering seamless remote working to staff, Access Legal offers a wide range of technologies and services, including legal practice management software, legal case management software, compliance software and online compliance training


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