The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill

This Bill has now passed through the House of Commons and will become law in the future. There is currently no timetable for when this will be. However, it will most likely become law well before any election. There are several reasons for this – it will be popular with the electorate. The second reason is that the UK economy has lost 500,000 workers since the pandemic. This is for various reasons: early retirement after the Covid lockdowns, long-term sickness caused by Covid, and EU workers returning home. The UK desperately needs more workers, so making their lives easier and more flexible may encourage people to return to full or part-time work.

Flexibility comes in many forms, not just working from home. It includes hybrid working (home and office work). Flexible working also includes the following:

 -       Reducing hours.

 -       Compressing hours, so working longer hours on certain days to work shorter hours on other days or to go to a 4-day week, but on the same hours.

 -       Changing start and finishing times.

 -       Job sharing.

 -       Changing office location or working from different offices on different days.


 The new Bill makes the following important changes:

1. Employees can request flexible working from day one of their employment. They previously had to have 26 weeks of service before they could make a request. (Though a new employee making a request on their first day may not inspire the confidence of their managers.) However, under the new Bill, employees are protected from suffering a detriment or dismissal after making a request.

2. Employees can also make two requests per year, up from one.

3. Employers have two months to respond, down from three.


Employers will still have the same current eight grounds for refusing a request: 

  1. The additional associated costs.
  2. Unable to reorganise work amongst existing staff.
  3. Unable to recruit additional staff.
  4. An impact on the quality of work.
  5. An impact on employee performance.
  6. Impact on the ability to meet customer demand.
  7. Insufficient work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
  8. There is a planned structural change to the business.

Also, the employee will no longer be required to set out how their request for flexible working will impact the employer. Furthermore, the employer will have to consult with their employee or employees to discuss how flexible working could be implemented before rejecting any request. 

The Bill gently tips the balance in the employee’s favour and nudges employers to be more flexible. However, given the shortage of workers, most employers will need little encouragement to adopt increased flexible working if it can help to recruit and retain staff.

The Bill also points to the general direction of travel: 4-day working weeks for the same pay and increased job sharing. 

Employees will not necessarily have the upper hand in the future, but currently, they do. Also, the government is desperate to improve the low productivity suffered by the UK caused by low investment, long hours and poor work cultures.