Beware April’s impending employment law changes

3rd April 2024

There are a number of key employment law changes that are coming in this April that businesses need to be aware of.

Flexible working rights

A significant change to worker rights set to be introduced in April will ensure flexible working is more accessible than ever before and demonstrates the traditional 9-5 working pattern is ‘no longer the norm’, according to an employment law expert.

The Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations Act 2023 will come into effect on April 6 and will remove the current 26-week qualifying period to make a flexible working request.

Instead, employees will have the right to make a flexible working request on the first day of their employment, and can make two requests within 12 months – double previous limits.

Employers, in turn, must respond to an employee’s request within two months instead of three and must also engage in a consultation with the employee.

‘Flexible working’ refers to the working patterns of employees – including part time, flexi-time, term time, condensed hours and start and finish times – as well as the place of work, be it in an office or another location such as home.

The legislative change will provide employees with greater flexibility on where and when they work and help to open conversations around accessibility to work.

Covid-19 has resulted in a huge shift in workplace dynamics and many employers have embraced a change in working patterns as it can lead to increased workforce engagement, productivity, and staff retention.

This change heightens the conversation and will lead many employers to reassess their flexible working model to ensure they not only have a happy workforce which helps to retain staff, but can also attract a wider talent pool.

It also recognises the fact that the traditional 9-5 working pattern is no longer the norm as many look for a greater work-life balance or alternative arrangements due to external factors such as childcare.

The new legislation also removes the requirement for employees to explain what effect the request will have on the employer, and in addition employees no longer must explain how any changes can be dealt with. It’s a big win for employees as it opens up doors, and whilst it’s not removing the right for employers to say no, it is taking away boundaries and leading to a more open conversation around accessibility to work.

Ultimately, while this may lead to employers opening up more roles for flexible working when recruiting, there’s always going to be roles that don’t accommodate flexible working

Employers need to carefully manage flexible working requests as whilst the new legislation still permits employers to reject flexible working requests based on the existing eight reasons, the ability for an employer to outright reject a request will be removed and employers must consult and discuss alternative arrangements.  There’s lots of work for employers to do to ensure their processes are in place ahead of 6th April.

Pregnancy redundancy protection

A law change which will extend redundancy protection for employees who are pregnant or returning from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave could reduce discrimination towards new and expectant parents, says a leading employment law expert.

Under current laws, employees who are on maternity leave, shared parental leave, or adoption leave are already afforded special protection against redundancies through a right to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy – if available – before redundancy.

That is set to be extended from April 6 under The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 which will cover pregnant employees and employees who have recently returned from maternity, adoption, or shared parental leave.

The change will provide pregnant employees not only with enhanced protection from redundancy from the time they inform their employer of their pregnancy, but this will also last for a period of 18 months after childbirth.

Those on adoption leave and shared parental leave are also protected for 18 months from the date of commencing adoption leave or shared parental leave.

The new legislation does not prevent employers from making employees redundant during this period, but it does afford new and expectant parents with priority status for redeployment opportunities for a much longer period than is in force currently.

First and foremost, this is a hugely positive family-friendly step which empowers parents to take the leave they are entitled to, and know they have extended protection for a period of 18 months.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is already unlawful. The current law also makes provision to allow employees to claim automatic unfair dismissal in circumstances where they have been dismissed because of pregnancy, maternity or one of the statutory family friendly leaves. With the law set to change, employers must start preparing now to ensure managers and decision makers are aware of the new rights before commencing a redundancy process.

At the moment, I don’t think many are prepared for this. If they don’t invest in awareness training, their procedures and policies and offer priority redeployment, they will fall foul of the law and face employment tribunal claims.

Tina Chander, Partner and Head of Employment from Wright Hassall