Claire McGuinness, Senior HR Consultant, provides a legal update on the backing of the ‘Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill’ that will give employees the right to request a predictable working pattern.
The government has given its backing to the ‘Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill’. This Bill is designed to combat the one-sided flexibility often present in employment relationships that involve variable or zero hours. If this comes into place, it will be a huge change for workers across the UK who currently must wait to have their hours, if any, to be confirmed.
The new rights would apply to all workers and employees. This includes those employed through agency work, who have been engaged for at least 26 weeks.
Under the Bill, if a worker’s existing working pattern lacks:
They will be able to make a formal application to change their working pattern to make it more predictable.
A work pattern includes:
The purpose of this application must be to get a more predictable work pattern.
A fixed-term worker is regarded as having a lack of predictability if their contract is for less than 12 months. As such, these workers will also be able to apply for a more predictable working pattern, if the change would mean their fixed-term contract is extended, or their contract is made permanent.
Applications must specifically state that it’s a request for more predictable terms, outline the change they want, and when they propose it will take effect.
In the same way as the current Flexible Working Application, employers should deal with applications in a reasonable manner and respond with their decision within a reasonable timeframe.
The Bill proposes a similar set of rights which will apply to agency workers. However, there are different restrictions on when an agency worker can make an application reflecting their particular circumstances. A worker or agency worker will be limited to making two applications within a 12-month period in respect of a particular employer/work agency/hirer.
Employers must be wary of the changes that the Bill would introduce, employers will inevitably have an increased administrative workload to deal with any requests made by an employee.
The law would have a particular impact on employers who rely heavily on casual or seasonal workers as the opportunity to have a regular contract would be appealing to some. As an example; an employee working in hospitality on a zero-hour contract may work varied days each week depending on customer demand. However, the employee may regularly work over 30 hours a week, and many weeks may do a lot more.
As we know the instability of not having a fixed contract can prevent workers’ chances when it comes to the likes of applying for a mortgage, due to being too high risk with no set hours. Therefore, the employee could request a contract that guarantees set hours. Employers would then need to evaluate whether they can accommodate the request and respond to the employee within the set timeframe, in the same way as a flexible working request.
Where a worker is on a fixed-term contract of fewer than 12 months, they may request that the term is extended so that the contract is longer than 12 months or becomes permanent. The view taken seems to be that a contract of fewer than 12 months is intrinsically less predictable in nature. However, this may lead to an influx of requests where businesses rely upon relatively short, fixed-term contracts.
Applications can only be rejected for reasons which largely follow (but are not the exact same as) what is already in place for flexible working requests. Specifically, these are outlined in the Bill as:
Employees will be able to make a tribunal claim if the employer doesn’t deal with these requests properly.
The Bill has been given official backing by the government, due to employers having one-sided flexibility over their staff, as being unfair and unreasonable.
The Bill has passed its second reading in the House of Commons. But it still needs to progress through the House of Lords before it can come into effect. As such, it will likely take effect and become law in early 2024, giving employers the opportunity to get ahead and ensure line managers know how to manage such requests.
If you require any advice surrounding this Bill and how to manage requests for a predictable working pattern get in contact with our team today.
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