Flexible working: what’s changing?

Workplace and wellbeing

8 March 2024

Since COVID-19 and the rise of the hybrid working model, employees are increasingly interested in opportunities for flexible working. From 6 April 2024, the UK government is introducing new rules that impact how employees make a flexible work request.

Read on to find out more about the upcoming changes, and what it means for small businesses.

Flexible working 

What is flexible working?

Flexible working refers to the different working arrangements that offer a degree of flexibility to employees. Typically, these arrangements involve flexibility around the person’s working location, hours, times and workload.

Types of flexible working 

Remote working

Remote working allows the employee the chance to work part or all of their working week at a location remote to their place of work. Whether it’s in another city, or even country!

According to the ONS, in 2023, 44% of UK employees were reported to be working remotely. With 16% of workers having fully remote roles, and the remaining 28% using a hybrid working model.

Working from home 

This way of working has become increasingly popular within the last few years, following on from the COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home (WFH) does what it says on the tin, with employers allowing their employees to work from their home as opposed to being ‘on site’ at their workplace.

With reduced travel costs, the ability to start and finish your working day without the commute and the chance to catch up on errands during downtime, it’s no surprise that more people are opting for this type of working.


Flexi-time allows employees to choose their own working hours including their start and finish times. By controlling their own work schedule, employees can balance their workload with their own personal commitments.

The freedom to determine their own schedule also means that workers are able to set aside time for activities that boost their well-being and mental health. 

Job sharing

Job sharing is when two people share a role that would normally be held by one person. By both working part-time hours, they’re able to complete the same level of workload as one employee working full-time hours. This setup may appeal to those with other commitments, such as childcare or carer responsibilities.

The benefits of flexible working

Better work/life balance

When it comes to defining exactly what a healthy work-life balance looks like, it’s likely that the answer will vary depending on who you ask. It doesn’t always mean a direct 50/50 split and is more about ensuring that you’re happy in both areas. Whether it’s through reduced hours, a change of location or the chance to work from home, changes to these arrangements can help people strike a balance that’s right for them.

Support for parents and carers

Parents and carers often opt for roles that offer flexible working, as it allows them to fit providing care for their dependants around their job. In 2023, reports show that parents with children worked higher levels of hybrid working (31%), compared to those without (26%).

Flexible working helps support new mums, as they phase their return to work after having children. Whether through job sharing, WFH or working remotely, these setups allow them to stagger their return and reduce their need for childcare cover, as well having the opportunity to fit their working life around spending time with family. The Flex Appeal campaign promotes the importance of flexibility for working mums, while pushing for the type of change the new rules will bring into play.

Improve retention of workers

Employers who offer flexible working are able to build strong relationships with their employees by trusting them to complete their workload in ways which suit them. When employees feel supported and valued, they are more likely to stay at a company than look elsewhere for alternative roles. And with flexible working becoming increasingly popular among employers, it’s a good way to stay competitive and retain existing good talent. You can read more about improving employee retention here

Diversity and inclusion

By opening roles up to flexible working arrangements, candidates who don’t typically fit the criteria in terms of hours and location are then able to apply. This means employers can cast a wider net when looking for talent to fit their vacancies, and increase their chanced of finding the right person for the role. For more on promoting diversity in your business, take a look at our guide

Increased productivity 

Flexible working often helps employees increase their productivity and job satisfaction levels. With the freedom to choose their own working hours, meaning that they can work during the times that they feel most productive. Not everyone is the same, with some people performing best early in the day, and others feeling most focused later in the evenings.

Current flexible working rules

As it stands, all employees who have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks are legally entitled to request flexible working. This request may include changes to:

  • Location of where they work from 
  • Number of hours they work
  • Working days
  • Start and finish times

This is known as ‘making a statutory application’.

What's changing?

As of 6 April 2024, the new rules mean that employees can now make a flexible working request from as early as their official first day in a new job.

What this means for employers 

Employers must handle flexible work requests in a ‘reasonable manner’, by:

  • Reviewing the request by assessing the pros and cons of the proposed changes
  • Reviewing the benefits or impact of accepting or rejecting the request
  • Holding a meeting with the employee to discuss the changes they’ve proposed
  • Reading the guidance provided by ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) around the code of practice

If employers fail to handle requests in a reasonable manner, employees may opt to take them to an employment tribunal.

The Equality Act 2010 

In line with the Equality Act 2010, employers must not discriminate against any protected characteristics disclosed to them as part of the employee’s request. These include:

  • Age
  • Disability 
  • Gender re-assignment 
  • Marriage and civil partnership 
  • Pregnancy/maternity 

How to request flexible working?

A step-by-step guide

1. Firstly, any request must be submitted to the employer in writing (by email or letter.) It’s important to know that some employers may request a standard application instead.

2. Requests must clearly state that the employee is submitting a statutory request for flexible working.

3. The request must be accurately dated. 

4. The request must clearly detail what flexible working change is being requested. 

5. The request should explain, if any, how this request may impact the business. Where relevant, you should include solutions to issues that may come up as result.

6. Include the date for the change to start from, if approved.

7. If the employee has made a statutory request previously, this should be referenced.   

Employee can make two statutory requests for flexible working during any 12-month period. Should the employee decide to withdraw their request for any reason, they should let their employers know in writing.

Can an employer reject a flexible working request?

Unless there is a genuine business reason as to why not, employers must agree to a statutory request for flexible working. The valid reasons to reject this type of request are outlined in the Employment Right Act 1996:

  • Significant additional costs
  • Quality is detrimentally impacted
  • Ability to meet customer demand is detrimentally impacted
  • Performance is detrimentally impacted
  • Inability to recruit additional staff members
  • Lack of work available for the times that the employee has requested to work
  • Structural changes planned to the employer's business

Unless the employer agrees to grant the employees request in full, they must consult with the employee before making their decision. This meeting should not be subject to unreasonable delay, with both employers and employees having appropriate time to prepare beforehand.

During the consultation meeting, the employer should ensure all information in the request is fully understood and establish whether the employees request relates to reasonable adjustment due to disability.

Unless mutually agreed otherwise, any discussion should be recorded in writing. 

Next steps

What happens after a request is approved?

If a request is approved, or if an alternative agreement for change is reached as a result of the consultation meeting, the employee should receive a written decision confirming the details such as an agreed date to review how the new arrangement is going.

What happens after a request is requested?

If a request is rejected, the employer should provide a written decision explaining the business reasons as to why. Where necessary, employers should include supporting information to explain their decision.

The right to appeal

Although there’s no statutory right when it comes to appealing flexible work requests, it’s good practice to allow employees to appeal the decision. You can find further guidance here.

Important: These new rules surrounding flexible working come into force in April 2024. Please be mindful that the information referenced in this article comes from the draft version of the new code. You can view the current code, here.

All links are checked and valid at time of publishing, 08 March 2024.

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