March 7, 2024

Let’s Inspire Inclusion

Posted in Employment

International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide on 8 March each year, highlights women’s achievements, struggles, and their right to gender equality, while also highlighting their contributions to culture, politics, and society across various sectors.

The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2024 is Inspire Inclusion.

Everyone in your organisation has a part to play in inspiring inclusion.  Inclusion is not just about equality, to truly include women means to openly embrace their diversity of race, age, ability, faith, body image and how they identify.

Whilst we reflect in our organisations about what we can do to inspire inclusion, it is helpful to look at the legal frameworks that support inclusive workplaces and focus on the changes due this April.

Flexible Working

Millions of people across the UK are now working flexibly. Flexible working can take lots of different forms, including working from home, job sharing, compressed hours, part-time and term-time working.  Women are three times more likely to work part-time and nearly four times more likely to work term-time only than men.

On 6 April 2024 significant amendments to the flexible working regulations will reshape the employment landscape in England and Wales. The prevalence of flexible working arrangements has surged post-pandemic, and despite their intended flexibility, current regulations do not go far enough to support working mothers and carers, proving rigid and unforgiving.


What’s the current position?

Requirements for employees to be office based or full-time indirectly discriminate against women as primary caregivers.  With the rigidity of the current flexible working regulations, arguably the regulations too have the same indirect discriminatory effect.

Employees are currently required to complete 26 weeks of continuous employment to be eligible to request flexible working arrangements and they are limited to only one request every 12 months. These prerequisites and limitations imposed by the current law fails to accommodate the realities faced by many women, balancing work and care duties. Consequently, women often encounter obstacles in advancing their careers.

What are the new flexible working regulations?

On 6 April 2024, the newly approved Employment Rights Bill (Flexible Working) will come into play meaning that:-

  1. Employees will have a “day one” right to request flexible working arrangements, instead of waiting 26 weeks;
  2. Employees can make two flexible working requests instead of one (in any 12 month period);
  3. Employers must respond within two months to any flexible working request, instead of three (albeit this can be extended by agreement);
  4. Employers must consult with the employee before rejecting a flexible working request; and
  5. Employees will no longer need to explain what effect, if any, the flexible working request would have on the company and how it could be dealt will be removed.

The eight statutory grounds for rejecting a flexible working request remain unchanged.

Expanding the flexible working regime marks a progressive change aimed at enhancing employee engagement, retention and attracting a broader talent pool.  However, it is important to recognise that while supportive of women, these changes do not fully eliminate the risk of indirect discrimination, particularly concerning rejected requests related to childcare.  Employers should be mindful of this.

Carer’s Leave – why does it matter?

The 2021 census confirmed that around 5 million people in the UK are unpaid carers – that’s 10% of the UK’s workforce.  Unsurprisingly 59% of unpaid carers in the UK are women, with 58% coming from black, Asian or other ethnic minorities.

From 6 April 2024 employees will now have a statutory right to a week’s unpaid leave to care for a dependent who has a long term care need.  This new right will be a “day one” right, meaning that there is no minimum service requirement.

Understanding Carer’s Leave – the key factors

  1. There is no requirement to evidence the reason for the leave request – this is reassuring given the challenge of managing sensitive personal data or medical information relating to third parties;
  2. It’s flexible – employees can book the leave using a minimum of a half day, and there is no need to book consecutive days;
  3. Employee’s are required to give notice of their intention to take the leave, which must be twice the length of the leave requested (eg an employee would need to give four days notice to take two days leave) or three days notice, whichever is the longest; and
  4. Employers cannot refuse a request for the leave, although there are circumstances in which the leave can be postponed.

How can HR professionals prepare?

As HR professionals, it is important to proactively review and update your company’s existing flexible working policies to explicitly acknowledge the new regulations.

Employers should therefore:-

  1. Inform your workforce of the upcoming changes;
  2. Educate your people managers about the potential sensitivities and legal risks of incorrectly dealing with a request, and train them on how to deal with requests;
  3. Update or create policies to implement the changes;
  4. Anticipate a surge in requests this April. This means that it is essential to have robust processes in place to promptly review and respond to applications.

Are you prepared for the changes relating to flexible working and carers leave?

If you would like help updating your company’s policies or providing training, contact to a member of RWK Goodman’s Employment team who will be happy to assist.