How can employers prepare for the predictable working hours law?

The new legislation demands agility and forward thinking from businesses. James Tamm reports

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Under recently passed legislation, employees will soon be able to advocate for more structured and stable work schedules in another key move from the government to ‘level the playing field’. 

As part of the ongoing agenda to give workers in non-standard employment arrangements an improved level of job security, the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act 2023 was given royal assent on 18 September 2023. 

It’s expected to come into effect in September 2024 and again shift the dynamics of the UK's employment landscape. It has come soon after bills passing through parliament on family-friendly workers’ rights and flexible working. 

The right to request a more predictable working schedule will apply to:

  • workers whose existing working patterns lack certainty in regard to the hours or times they work, such as retail and hospitality employees with irregular shifts or on-call healthcare workers;
  • workers on fixed-term contracts of 12 months or less (who are able to request a longer fixed-term or the removal of any provisions relating to fixed-term), such as seasonal workers and supply teachers; and
  • agency workers (who can make their request either to the agency or the hirer provided they meet certain qualifying conditions).

The procedure introduced by the bill will be familiar to employers, as it closely mirrors the process for a flexible working request. Workers with more than 26 weeks’ service will be able to submit up to two applications for predictable work schedules per year and businesses will be required to respond within one month. It is also likely that those weeks won’t need to be continuous.

If a request is approved, organisations must present the new terms to the worker within two weeks of granting the request. This fast turnaround means employers need to be agile and ready to assess and address these requests. Several strategic adaptations will be needed from businesses, particularly in relation to how they manage staffing and scheduling.

The reasons for rejecting a request are also almost exactly the same as those by which a flexible working request can be refused. Companies will have the right to refuse an application if their reasons align with one of six statutory grounds:

  • the burden of additional costs;
  • the ability to meet customer demand;
  • the impact on recruitment;
  • the impact on other areas of the business;
  • insufficiency of work during the proposed periods; or
  • planned structural changes.

The maximum penalty for failing to deal with a request for a predictable working pattern will be eight weeks’ pay.

A key challenge to navigate is that the legislation does not define what predictable means. Therefore, businesses will need to contemplate what predictability means for them and their staff. With this in mind, the correct processes will need to be put in place that can handle predictable working requests without hindering the company’s ability to operate efficiently and meet demands. 

While employers may have until the latter half of next year, they should start thinking now about how to address predictable working requests. This includes assessing current policies, developing sustainable work patterns and staying abreast of the Acas Code of Practice. 

They should use the change too in a positive way to boost employee engagement and retention. They are demonstrating a commitment to employee wellbeing by supporting their requests where possible and by liaising with them to proactively find a working pattern that suits both parties. 

Those that can successfully navigate these new waters will not only be compliant but may also set new benchmarks in employee satisfaction and loyalty.

James Tamm is director of legal services at WorkNest