Flexible Working Bill receives Royal Assent: The small business reaction

Flexible Working Bill receives Royal Assent: The small business reaction
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Thu 27th Jul 2023

Employees will have the right to request flexible working from day one of a new job, following the passing into law of the government's Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act.

Under current rules, workers can only make one request to work flexibly, such as working from home, working part-time, following staggered hours or adopting flexitime, every 12 months. They also need to have worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks.

Under the new rules, which apply from 6 April 2024, an employee can make two requests each year and they can do so as soon as they start a job.

The law also imposes a new requirement on bosses to consult with staff before rejecting a flexible working request, and the maximum waiting time for decisions to be made has been reduced from three months to two months.

The government cited CIPD research which shows that 6% of employees changed jobs last year specifically due to a lack of flexible options and 12% quit their profession altogether due to a lack of flexibility in the sector. This represents almost two and four million workers respectively.

According to ministers, around 2.2m more employees are covered by the flexible working entitlement as a result of the new law.

Small business minister Kevin Hollinrake said:

"A happier workforce means increased productivity, and that's why we're backing measures to give people across the UK even more flexibility over where and when they work.

"Not only does flexible working help individuals fit work alongside other commitments – whether it's the school drop off, studying or caring for vulnerable friends and family – it's good business sense too, helping firms to attract more talent, increase retention and improve workforce diversity.

"I want to thank Yasmin Qureshi MP, and all the campaigners who have helped make this Bill a reality and improved the lives of workers across the UK."

The changes in the Flexible Working Act will be supported by a statutory code of practice being developed by Acas, which provides impartial advice to employers and employees on workplace rights, rules and best practice. A consultation on the code runs until 11.59pm on 6 September 2023.

The government has also launched a consultation on non-statutory flexible working with the aim of "increasing understanding of the role of informal flexible working in meeting the needs of both employers and employees". Evidence can be submitted until 11.59pm on 7 November 2023.

Reaction to the Flexible Working Bill getting Royal Ascent

Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones said:

"All research points to the fact that companies that embrace flexible working can attract more talent and boost both efficiency and productivity. But very little is spoken about the fact that many people want this flexibility to work on their own business.

"We know around 60% of businesses are now started as a side hustle, while people are holding down a day job. We did some research in December 2022 called the Start-up Appetite Report which found around a third of all adults in the UK were thinking about starting up this year.

"Starting out while holding down a day job gives people an initial financial cushion, but there are benefits for the employer as well. Employees learn how to be entrepreneurial and get a better understanding of how businesses work and operate, including cash flow and developing creative ideas within a budget. These are great skills and this new legislation could bring that benefit to more businesses."

Lucy Jeffrey, Enterprise Nation member and founder of Bare Kind, said:

"My first reaction was 'this is a great idea', but then I also thought that I don't want flexible working to become another tick box exercise.

"We offer really flexible working and I think it makes our company stand out from the rest. It allows us to compete for talent with large corporations because they cannot offer the flexibility we can, so I just wonder if we will lose out eventually.

"However, the reason we offer such flexibility to our employees is because I truly think it's the right thing to do, so this Bill is a positive step forward for the general population."

Hayley Knight, Enterprise Nation member and co-founder of Be Yellow, said:

"The Flexible Working Bill passing the House of Lords is a significant win for employees advocating for workplace flexibility. It offers numerous benefits to employees, including better work-life balance, reduced stress, and increased productivity. It also provides a competitive edge to businesses that embrace it, leading to improved employee morale, engagement, and innovation.

"Potential challenges include managing remote workers and maintaining fairness across different arrangements. However, these can be addressed through careful planning and open communication, leveraging technology, and establishing clear policies.

"To further enhance work-life balance, the next logical step is considering four-day working weeks. Research supports the benefits of this reduced schedule for both employees and employers, with improvements in health, job satisfaction, and revenue.

"We already implement a four-day workweek, prioritising employees' personal and professional growth. We believe this balanced approach benefits both individuals and the business, fostering a culture of innovation.

"Overall, the Flexible Working Bill is a major step forward for the UK, and its potential combined with four-day workweeks holds promise for a harmonious and fulfilling work environment for all."

Relevant resources

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance journalist and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's news reporter and Bristol Local Leader. I have 20 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation as the website's news reporter and as the host of the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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