In the Women in Tech survey earlier this year, it was found that 63% of women in tech place flexible working as one of their most important benefits when looking for a job. And that doesn’t just mean working from home – flexible working arrangements can include flexi-time, having more control about when or where you work, and part-time hours. So, it’s great news that in July, a new Flexible Working Bill received Royal Assent and therefore became law, giving employees increased rights when it comes to requesting flexible working arrangements from their employer. Read on to find out exactly what the new law means for both employees and employers.
Flexible working refers to any adjustment made by you and your employer to change the way you work. This could be a change to your working hours, times or location. Flexible working has always existed, but it’s become much more common and less of a luxury since the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Employers have noted the positive impact of allowing their employees increased freedom to choose working patterns and locations, without detrimental impact on the business’ productivity. Particularly important for women returning to work after having children, flexible working patterns can include:
All employees have a legal right to request flexible working. In order to make an application to their employer, workers must have been at their current job for at least 26 weeks, or 6 months. Currently, the law states you can make one request every 12 months.
To submit a formal request to your employer, you must state in your email or letter that you’re making a ‘statutory flexible working request’. You should include the following points in your request:
Legally, your employer must consider your application – they can’t ignore it. Currently the law states that they have 3 months to review and give you a decision. They are bound to give a permitted reason if they decline your request, and are not allowed to give reasons which aren’t factually correct.
The new legislation, simply put, makes it easier for employees to request flexible working amendments from their employer. The changes are:
These new rules are being introduced to give more control to the employee and give greater flexibility over when and where they work. The Employment Relations Bill was first proposed by Yasmin Qureshi, who is a labour MP for Bolton South East. In July, the bill received Royal Assent, meaning it can now officially become law. The changes will likely come into effect next year in 2024.
The new legislation around flexible working requests has more consequences for employers, who now need to be prepared to receive a flexible working request from day one of someone’s employment. They should be prepared to open up conversations with team members about the suitability of flexible working for the roles within their company. For many job functions, flexible working might not work, but it’s up to the employer to clearly and fairly state why that might be. The new legislation does not mean that employers can’t turn down a request, but they do need to fairly consider every request they receive, and respond within two months.
Flexible working shouldn’t be scary for employers – instead it should be seen as a huge opportunity to increase productivity, employee satisfaction and diversity. By giving your employees an increased amount of freedom to choose to work in a way that suits them, in turn they will feel happier and more comfortable. Ultimately, this increases retention and reduces the time and effort you will need to spend recruiting.
“There are millions of parents and carers in the UK who rely on flexible working to enter and stay in employment. It is no longer a perk; for many, it is a necessity. But flexible working isn’t just good for people–it’s also good for business, and good for the economy. When employers implement flexible working effectively, they reap the benefits: from increased talent attraction and retention to better performance.” – Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive of Working Families
Arguably, this new legislation will have the most impact on women and could help to level the playing field for them. Women are often expected to take on the majority of childcare responsibilities, meaning they end up sacrificing their careers by taking on part-time work or giving up working entirely. Flexible working arrangements allow women to balance their childcare commitments and job more effectively. For example, many women choose to reduce their working days when returning to work to make things more manageable, as childcare costs continue to rise. The flexible working bill could also encourage more fathers to apply for flexible working adjustments, meaning shared parental leave could come into play.
Many women have been campaigning for changes like this to happen for years, and although this is progression, some complain that it’s not enough. However, flexible working has been proven to increase employee retention and satisfaction, so it’s definitely a step in the right direction.