HR urged to ‘communicate’ as majority of employees unaware of new flexible working right

Experts say people professionals should update policies and guidance and inform staff ahead of change to legislation

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Seven in 10 (70 per cent) employees are unaware that they will have the day-one right to request flexible work from their employers, according to a survey of 1,000 adults by Acas and YouGov

Beginning next year, employees across the UK will have more control over where and when they work under the day-one right to request flexible working, which will take effect on 6 April 2024.

The Act, which received royal assent in July, will cover rights to request flexibility over part time, term time, flexi-time, compressed hours and adjustable start and finish times. 

Rob Fisher, managing and HR director at Strategi Solutions, told People Management: “The change of flexible working requests to become a day-one right has been an important change to follow for HR professionals.” 

Throughout the pandemic, he said there had been a significant increase in flexible working requests being made, and “HR are the custodians of ensuring the legislation is followed with these requests”. 

“While there has been a lot of information briefed to HR teams around these changes, Acas research suggests that this information hasn’t reached a large percentage of the working population,” Fisher said, adding that it was important that HR teams let employees know of the significant changes such as this. 

“What is also important is making sure that line managers are also aware so that they know how to respond accordingly.

“Internal communication is more important than ever and HR has several different ways to communicate this effectively.” 

Gemma Dale, lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, said: “Although we have known that this legislation is to be expected, it was only laid before parliament last week and the effective date confirmed. 

“It is perhaps understandable therefore that employees don’t know about it yet, as many HR departments may have been holding off updating policies or communicating change until this vital detail was known.”

However, Dale said that, as the new rules will take effect in April, “it is time for HR departments to update policies and guidance”.

“As this change is likely to bring forward flexible working requests to an earlier time in the employee lifecycle, managers should be briefed,” she said. “It may be prudent to surface such conversations before employment begins, dealing with it at the recruitment stage.” 

Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, told People Management: “While draft regulations state that making a flexible working request will be a day-one right from 6 April 2024, they are subject to parliamentary approval and we still do not know when the other changes will come into effect.”  

He added that employers will likely be hesitant to discuss and make any changes before the details are confirmed.

However, he said HR professionals should be “preparing themselves for these changes and what it means for their organisation”. 

Price also said that HR should think about how these changes were “communicated to employees” and whether now was a good moment to publicise what they do to support employees who wish to work flexibly. 

This comes as Acas prepares to release a new statutory code of practice in 2024 for dealing with requests for flexible working. It contains information on who should be permitted to accompany an employee to meetings to discuss a flexible working request, as well as the necessity for clarity regarding the reasons for rejecting a request.

“It is important for bosses and staff to be prepared for new changes to the law around the right to request flexible working, which will be coming into force next year,” said Susan Clews, chief executive of Acas.

This follows research from Timewise, which found that half of UK workers (49 per cent) would take advantage of the new day-one flex rights when the law comes into effect. 

However, Aisling Foley, solicitor at SAS Daniels, told People Management: “Acas has said this change is coming into force on 6 April 2024, but there’s nothing to support that. 

“In terms of the day-one right, this isn’t included within the primary legislation; therefore, if that does come in, it will by way of secondary legislation. This could well come into force at the same time as the primary, but we can’t say for sure.” 

She added that if staff were not aware of the changes, “it isn't too much of an issue as the law is unchanged currently”.

Foley said the ideal thing for employers to do was “ensure their policies are up to date to reflect the changes and that employees are then told of the changes and the update to the policy”, adding that the modification can then be applied by the employer with each request they get.