Casual workers and those on zero-hours contracts will soon be able to request more predictable working hours under new employment laws.
The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill means casual workers – such as those on rotas or zero-hours contracts – will be able to formally request a more predictable work pattern, defined as the number of hours, days, and times they work, from employers.
First proposed by Blackpool South MP Scott Benton, the legislation received royal assent in September, meaning it is expected to come into effect later this year.
The new bill has been modelled on the Flexible Working Bill, which was ratified last year. Both laws are designed to protect employees and address the issue of “one-sided flexibility” in the new era of flexible and remote working.
How to request a change to working patterns
Under the new rules laid out by the bill, staff who have worked for an employer at least once in the previous 26 weeks (known as the ‘qualifying period’) can request a change to work patterns.
To submit a request for a change in working pattern, staff must submit a formal appeal to the employer in writing, clearly stating that they are making a statutory working request. This should include basic information such as name and email address, and details of the desired flexible working arrangement.
Workers can make two working requests in any 12-month period and employers have one month to respond to a predictable working request. Once a request has been made:
- Employers agencies and hirers must carefully consider all work requests
- Employers must set up a meeting to discuss the request before coming to a final decision (sent in writing)
- Employers can only decline a worker’s request for a genuine business reason
- If a request is turned down, alternative options should be considered, such as an agreement that rotas will be prepared further in advance
What do ‘predictable’ work hours look like?
Working patterns are defined as the timings or length of an assignment with a hirer. But what defines a ‘predictable’ work pattern is, according to the new bill, clear as mud.
While the majority of requests are likely to come from those people who have obvious unreliable work patterns – such as those with zero hours contracts – ‘unpredictable’ could theoretically apply to anyone whose work hours are simply uncertain. That would include:
- Employees whose contract stipulates they must work additional hours ‘as and when required’ (whether paid or not)
- Shift workers whose hours are decided by a rota and vary massively (eg. bartenders bouncing randomly between early morning starts and late night closing)
- ACAS’ draft code of conduct states that workers on a fixed term contract under 12 months can request to change their working pattern to make it more predictable
It’s best to keep all employees, regardless of contract type, informed about the new laws. That way, if a worker feels unsure about how and when they will work for you, they can flag any concerns to the employer who can respond as appropriate.
Why has the Predictable Working Bill been introduced?
As a result of government policies promoting “flexible” labour markets, such as the Employment Law Act 2011, the 2010s birthed a new employment category: the gig worker.
Characterised by short-term work arrangements and freelance jobs, those employed in a gig role (such as couriers or Uber drivers) will typically work a zero-hours contract, where they have no guarantee of set work hours per week or month.
Zero-hours contracts have their advantages. Businesses like them because they can save on fixed salary costs and overhead expenses by hiring gig workers only when needed. Individuals like them because they can fit work around other things, like childcare.
That said, employment groups have independently found issues with these types of contracts. In 2017, the Review of Modern Working Practices found that the flexibility is often “one-sided” in the company’s favour.
Under current rules, gig workers have to be available to a business with no guarantee of work. Employers can schedule or cancel shifts with little notice, leading to insecurity of hours and income. The Predictable Working Bill aims to address some of these issues and provide greater security for workers.
Commenting on the Act, Business and Trade Minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “It is unfair for anyone to have to put their lives on hold to make themselves available for shifts that may never actually come. This Act helps to end the guessing game.”
Flexible working bill
Flexible working has had a whirlwind introduction to the workforce as companies embrace less rigid work structures. According to a recent Startups survey, flexible work will explode this year, with 66% of firms planning to adopt remote or hybrid work policies in 2024.
The new Act comes as part of a package of Private Member Bills that the government has backed over the last few months as it attempts to keep pace with today’s fast-moving employment landscape. They include the new Flexible Working Bill, designed to give employees greater flexibility over where, when, and how they work.
Under the rules, employees can submit a flexible working request in a similar vein to the Predictable Working Bill. Only one request for any change to work arrangements can be live at any given time.
How should employers respond?
The new Act provides an opportunity for businesses to engage in the growing flexible labour market, by creating an attractive job proposition where both parties feel gratified.
In cases where requests are accepted, workers will have predictable work conditions that suit their individual circumstances, boosting morale and reducing staff turnover.
Where uncertainty is part and parcel of a role, there may be some teething issues. You don’t need to wait for September to roll around to start preparing, however.
Now is the ideal time for companies to reevaluate their employment contracts, and make a note of any adaptations that could be introduced to land on a satisfying middle ground.
For example, for workers on zero-hours contracts, consider writing a minimum number of hours per week or month into the contract. Hospitality firms often encourage employees to swap shifts among themselves, allowing for greater flexibility and control over schedules.
Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at CIPD said the new right should “work for both the business and workers wherever possible, boosting their efforts to recruit and retain staff.”