Flexible working: have your say on new rules for employers

Nurses are being urged to contribute to a consultation on a new code of practice for employers, as changes to the law are set for next spring

Nurses are being urged to contribute to consultation on a new code of practice for employers, as changes to the law are set for next spring

A photo of a staffing roster
Picture: Chris Woods

Nurses are being urged to give their views on a new code of practice that will lay out rules for employers on flexible working as new changes come into law.

The Employment Rights Bill (Flexible Working) was given royal assent last month, meaning the law on flexible working is changing and will come into effect in spring 2024.

Flexible working law will change in spring 2024

The RCN, NHS Employers and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) are urging nurses and union representatives to join them in taking part in an Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) consultation on the statuary code of practice that all NHS trusts, care providers and health service employers will have to follow on new flexible working requests.

The draft code will look at the culture surrounding flexible working requests, who can support staff at a request meeting, transparency on rejection of flexible working applications and appeal processes.

More flexible working patterns ‘vital for better staff retention’

NHS Employers director of employment relations and reward Paul Wallace said that improving flexible working in the NHS is vital for retaining older members of staff and attracting younger ones.

He said: ‘It is essential that we look to avoid putting staff in the position where they have to work additional hours, which are often unpaid.

‘Without more reciprocal and flexible working patterns, an out-of-date way of working will prevail, pushing staff to leave the service to look for other options that offer flexible working.’

Flexible working can include compressed hours, flexi-time, remote working, job sharing, set shift patterns or shift choice.

How is the law on flexible working changing?

  • Employees can make two flexible working requests every 12 months, instead of one
  • The amount of time employers have to respond to flexible working requests has been reduced from three months to two months
  • Employers will be required to consult with the employee before rejecting a flexible working request
  • Requirements for employees to explain what effect, if any, the flexible working request would have on the organisation will be removed

Changes could help reduce the risk of burnout

Studies have shown that flexible working reduces the risk of burnout and increases staff retention, but often people feel unable to request it due to workplace culture.

RCN national officer and team leader Gary Kirwan said: ‘Nursing staff work a difficult and often emotionally and physically exhausting job, while often having caring responsibilities at home. Flexible working is one way to make work more manageable and create a better work-life balance.

‘Many of our members tell us they don’t want to be wedded to a five-day week and we know that when healthcare employers are open to ideas about how they can be more flexible in their approach, they can recruit and retain more of their workforce – ultimately saving money and time.

‘This consultation is an important opportunity to look at how flexible working opportunities can be extended to healthcare professionals working outside the NHS in a variety of health and social care settings.’

The consultation is open until 6 September.

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