Introducing the new Acas Code of Practice on requests for flexible working

Simone Cheng , Acas Senior Policy Adviser

Simone Cheng is a Senior Policy Adviser at Acas. She is part of a team responsible for informing the future strategic direction of Acas and influencing the wider debate on the value of employment relations.

In any typical year, 6 April would mark the usual day I'd simply take note of new statutory pay rates. But this year was strikingly different for me, and certainly for organisations across Britain.

Reforms to flexible working rules, together with a new Acas statutory Code of Practice on requests for flexible working are now in force.

As the policy lead on developing the new Acas Code, the past few months have been full of discovery and insight. But what led us to producing this new Code, and what does it mean for employers and employees?

New legislative measures in place

Making the headlines is the new 'day one right' to request flexible working for every employee. The government says this change in regulations will extend the right to an estimated 2.2 million more employees.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act introduces further reforms, namely:

  • employees may make 2 requests in any 12-month period, instead of the previous one
  • an employer must not reject a request without first consulting the employee
  • a decision about a request must be made and communicated within 2 months of the request, instead of the previous 3 months
  • there is no longer a requirement on an employee to explain the effect of their request on the employer and how that might be dealt with

The case for change

The new legal reforms presented Acas with an important opportunity to conduct a comprehensive review of our original 2014 Acas Code on flexible working.

In the decade since that release, the flexible working landscape has witnessed considerable change. Not least, shortly after the government made a manifesto commitment to making flexible working the default, the covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic forced a mass remote working experiment across Britain and indeed the world. What resulted was a new-found recognition for many of the benefits of flexible working, and the fading away in many cases of old notions about how we needed to work.

In revising the Acas Code, our main aim was to reflect this positive shift in mindset. We also wanted to support organisations and individuals to think about and implement flexible working wherever it is desired and can work for both parties.

The main changes to the Code

Last summer, Acas developed and published a revised draft Code for public consultation. Respondents from a range of sectors provided rich and diverse insights – the consultation outcome gives an overview of these findings.

The end result? With more than three-quarters (77%) of respondents agreeing that Acas should refresh the good practice principles in the Code, as well as make updates to reflect legislative changes, we've done just that.

The Code's good practice recommendations aim to drive forward positive cultural shifts across organisations. The principles of fairness, trust and transparency were at the forefront of our minds and are emphasised throughout the Code.

The main changes include:

  • a new Foreword which emphasises that "the starting position should be to consider what may be possible", recognising that what may be possible will be unique to each circumstance – with 77% of respondents agreeing that the Foreword struck the right tone, it retains its focus on encouraging an open-minded approach to flexible working
  • guidance on the new legal requirement to consult, which includes the types of issues that would usually be appropriate to discuss – to address desire from 91% of respondents for this
  • new good practice recommendations

The new good practice recommendations include:

  • allowing employees to be accompanied by a fellow worker, a trade union representative or official at meetings to discuss requests – one of the main advantages cited by respondents was the role of companions in providing emotional support to employees and helping with understanding relevant information
  • after agreeing to a request, offer the employee an opportunity for a discussion to clarify any further information to help implement the arrangement – most respondents saw benefit in having a discussion about logistics and expectations
  • providing additional information which is reasonable to help explain a decision to reject – 91% agreed with this Code's recommendation, with respondents describing advantages for both parties, such as improved decision-making
  • appointing a different manager to handle any appeal, wherever possible – advantages recognised by respondents included impartiality and fairness, and having "a fresh pair of eyes" which could potentially see new solutions acceptable to both parties

Implementing the new Code

The launch of the new Code marks the end of a long and detailed process of development, but more importantly the beginning of its journey into organisations and working lives across the country.

Acas will now shift its focus towards supporting employers and employees to understand the changes and to put the Code into practice effectively. Whether you need our helpline, training, or in-depth workplace support, Acas has a wealth of resources to help you get up to speed with the new Code and what it means for you.

Find out how to contact us