Flexible Working and the need to update your Policy

Paul Jones 04-04-2024

Covid 19 Pandemic may well have been a once in a lifetime event, however some of its effects linger on when it comes to employee working patterns in the UK.

Working from home became the new normal for many, including legal firms and their employees. Those legal firms that didn’t have remote access to their case management systems and may have never really understood why it was necessary, found themselves rushing to their IT support and case management system providers to make it possible for their fee earners to provide legal services to those that continued to want or need them during the multiple lockdowns.

The need for far more flexibility in the UK workforce generally has led to new legislation that will come into effect from the 6th of April 2024, under the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023.

This updates the requirements for Flexible Working from the Employment Rights Act 1996 and legal firms need to make sure that their policies reflect the requirements.

The new requirements

From 6th April 2024 employees will be able to make a statutory request to make permanent changes to their contract from their first day of employment (rather than the current 26 weeks). This means that from day one, they can ask an employer for changes to how long, when and where they work.

Employees will also be able to make two requests in any twelve-month period, rather than the current one request.

In addition, you will be required to make a decision on the request within two months of receiving it. Currently businesses have three months.

Employees will no longer have to explain what effect, if any, the flexible working request would have on your organisation and how it could be overcome.

Should a business feel unable to accept the request, then it will need to consult with the employee and discuss alternative options before such a request can be rejected.

As a reminder, the following non-exhaustive list could constitute flexible working;

  • Job sharing
  • Remote working
  • Hybrid working
  • Part time
  • Compressed hours
  • Flexitime
  • Annualised hours
  • Staggered hours
  • Predictable hours or set shift pattern.
  • Phased retirement.

Any flexible working policy should include as a minimum;

  • The scope of flexible working – who the policy covers in the firm.
  • What the procedure is to request flexible working
  • How long a response to the request will take.
  • What the grounds for refusal are

As we have noted in previous articles, flexible working is now also a necessary tool for recruitment in legal firms, so make sure yours is up to date so your competitors can’t steal a march on you.