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Flexible Working Bill receives royal assent: HR must prepare for changes

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Employers to consult with employees before denying flexible working requests

Earlier this week, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill received royal assent, granting employees across England, Scotland, and Wales new powers when requesting flexible work arrangements. Under the new law, employees can now make up to two flexible working requests within 12 months, and employers must respond within two months instead of three.

Additionally, the bill introduces a requirement for employers to consult with employees before denying flexible working requests. Moreover, separate legislation alongside the bill has granted workers the right to request flexible working from the first day of a new job.

HR professionals are advised to familiarise themselves with the new law and review existing policies. Claire McCartney, CIPD’s Senior Inclusion and Resourcing Adviser, recommends adjusting internal policies to reflect the changes and providing training to all involved parties, including HR and line managers, to ensure the right to request is handled effectively.

The new law does not set specific time limits or guidance on flexible work consultations. However, most employers already have processes in place. Kloe Halls, Associate in the employment team at Linklaters, suggests that the change is unlikely to impact how many employers handle requests as many are already meeting with employees to discuss their requests.

HR can deny a flexible working request for eight reasons, relating to business concerns and effects on performance, work quality, or response to demand. The ACAS code outlining these reasons remains the same, but HR should explore suitable alternative arrangements before rejecting a request. ACAS is updating its code of practice on flexible working, emphasising the need for transparent and justifiable decision-making when rejecting requests.

The CIPD has published a guide on handling an influx of flexible working requests, recommending trial periods for any flexible arrangements.

There are various types of flexible working, including job sharing, working from home, part-time working, compressed hours, flexible hours, annualised hours, staggered hours, and phased retirement.

The tax implications of flexible working arrangements depend on an employee’s status. For employees, there are no significant tax issues, but for self-employed individuals, who work similarly to employees, there may be employment status compliance concerns. HR should assess the employment status of self-employed workers from the outset of their contracts to avoid tax liabilities.

The UK government’s Check Employment Status for Tax (CEST) tool can be helpful in determining employment status. For complex cases, seeking advice from specialist consultancies is recommended.

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