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Flexible Working Bill: What rights the new law gives you

The new Flexible Working Bill has made it through Parliament and is due to receive Royal Assent. Here's what you need to know about it.

flexible working Woman sitting on a desk using a laptop computer while working from home. Business, freelance and home office concept.
A new law will make the process of applying for flexible working arrangements considerably easier. (Getty Images)

New legislation that will make it easier for employees to be granted flexible working arrangements is set to become law today.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill was first introduced by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi with the aim of giving employees greater freedom over when, where and how they work.

Far from just giving people the option of working from home, the legislation opens up a number of other possibilities – including job-sharing, flexitime and compressed, annualised or staggered hours.

After passing its third reading in the House of Lords last week, Qureshi said it would be "be a big step forward in improving the working lives for millions of UK employees".

Qureshi says it will help break down the employment barriers faced by women, disabled people, carers, and older people in particular.

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However, one proposed amendment to the law – giving people the right to request flexible working from day one of employment – has not been included in the final legislation, despite many people mistakenly hailing it as if it had been accepted.

Here, Yahoo News explains the new Flexible Working Bill, who it benefits the most and how to apply for flexible working.

What is in the Flexible Working Bill?

The bill, which is due to receive royal assent on Thursday, allows employees to make two flexible working requests within a 12-month period – up from one.

It requires employers to give a decision within two months of receiving the requests – down from three months previously.

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Employees will now no longer have to explain the impact their flexible working will have on their role and how their employer could deal with it – alleviating a lot of pressure in making such a request.

Managers will have to hold a consultation with the employer before rejecting a request, but ultimately they can still turn it down.

Who could this bill benefit the most?

This bill could help level the playing field for women, who are three times more likely to work part-time and nearly four times more likely to work term-time only, according to recent analysis by the TUC.

"Too often, women pay a heavy financial price for trying to balance their work and caring responsibilities, being forced to drop hours – and lose pay – rather than fork out for extortionate childcare costs," the union's former general secretary Frances O’Grady said late last year.

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Multiracial girl with her mother hugging, having fun together in kitchen during home-office and homeschooling time.
Working mothers could benefit from the legislation in particular. (Getty Images)

Research by the Work Foundation at Lancaster University reveals 1.3 million disabled workers are in severely insecure work situations in the UK – with 430,000 saying they want to work more hours.

The study found they are more likely to be in "involuntary temporary work" when they would prefer to be on permanent contracts – so this new legislation could certainly help them.

Many elderly people and those with caring responsibilities could also benefit from more flexible working arrangements.

What doesn't the bill do?

As mentioned, the bill does not include the right to request flexible working from the first day of employment – an amendment proposed by Labour MP Tulip Siddiq which was never put into the legislation.

This means someone would still have to work continuously for an employer for six months before they can apply.

"The reason it wasn't included in the original bill nor advanced as an amendment was because the govt has promised to introduce Day 1 rights under secondary legislation. Alas that promise has not been honoured as yet," employment law barrister Jason Braier tweeted.

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"Thus the most momentous of the five areas considered in the government's recent consultation on flexible working is not covered by the Bill and awaits the slow turning of the wheels of government."

The bill also doesn't provide a right to appeal, although an employer may choose to allow it.

While the law is being given royal assent, it will take more time for the changes to come into effect as additional regulations will have to be put through, Liz Stevens of Birketts LLP tells Yahoo News.

The professional support lawyer added that the impact will likely be noticed from April.

The government is believed to remain committed to removing the existing 26-week qualifying period and that the new legislation will help employees have more flexibility.

How to apply for flexible working

  • The employee writes to the employer.

  • The employer considers the request and makes a decision within three months (two months under the new bill) – or longer if agreed with the employee.

  • If the employer agrees to the request, they must change the terms and conditions in the employee’s contract.

  • If the employer disagrees, they must write to the employee giving the business reasons for the refusal. The employee may be able to complain to an employment tribunal.

Employers can reject an application for any of the following reasons:

  • Extra costs that will damage the business

  • The work cannot be reorganised among other staff

  • People cannot be recruited to do the work

  • Flexible working will affect quality and performance

  • The business will not be able to meet customer demand

  • There’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times

  • The business is planning changes to the workforce