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Acas has launched a consultation on the draft Code of Practice (the Code) for handling flexible working requests that aims to incorporate changes in working practices resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and proposes amendments to the rules on flexible working. Acas is also planning to update its non-statutory guidance which sits alongside the Code.

The purpose of the Code of Practice

The draft Code of Practice aims to offer employers, employees, and representatives clear guidance on the statutory right to request flexible working while providing advice on handling such requests in a reasonable and fair manner. In light of recent changes, the Code encourages employers to adopt a more positive approach to flexible working, promoting open-minded consideration and meaningful dialogue rather than automatically rejecting requests.

Key updates to the Code

Accompaniment at meetings: The Code now extends the categories of individuals who may accompany an employee to meetings discussing a flexible working request to align with those applicable to disciplinary and grievance hearings.

Additional information for rejected requests

If an employer rejects a flexible working application: The Code recommends providing the employee with ‘such additional information as is reasonable’ to help them understand the reasoning behind the decision. This means employers should go beyond citing the business reasons for rejection, fostering transparency and clarity.

Right to appeal: The Code advises that employers should allow employees to appeal if their flexible working request is rejected. This provision ensures that employees have an avenue to challenge the decision, encouraging fairness and accountability in the process.

Changes to the rules on flexible working: In addition to the Code of Practice, it is important to note that the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill 2022-2 is set to introduce significant changes. The key amendments under consideration include:

  • Immediate right to apply: Employees will have the right to make a flexible working application from the first day of their employment, rather than waiting for a qualifying period.
  • Increased request allowance: Employees will be able to make up to two flexible working requests per year, providing them with greater flexibility in managing their work-life balance.
  • Prompt application handling: Employers will be required to deal with the application and any subsequent appeal within two months, ensuring a timely resolution.
  • Business reason grounds: Employers will still retain the ability to reject flexible working requests if they can demonstrate a valid business reason, as currently permitted.

Implementation timeline

While the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill is in its final stages and expected to become law soon, separate regulations are required before the changes come into force. We anticipate these regulations to be introduced next year, providing employers with time to prepare and adapt their policies accordingly.

Please note that this information is for general guidance only and should not substitute professional legal advice. If you have specific concerns, we recommend consulting with one of our legal experts.


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