The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act 2023 is set to come into force in 2024. This looks “to give workers and agency workers the right to request more predictable terms and conditions of work”, aimed at tackling precarious working conditions and contract terms.
The Act seeks to empower workers to request more predictable hours, but will not act as a firm right to ensure this. In creating the new regulations, the Government has consulted ACAS, which is expected to produce an updated Code of Practice to ensure that both workers and employers are able to comprehend and adhere to the rules. A public consultation regarding the application of the new rules is expected in the coming months.
There are many details that are not yet confirmed, these are expected to be clarified in coming regulations. A key issue that is being debated is the criteria that will need to be established to determine which workers are entitled to make a request. In terms of length of service, it is expected that workers will be required to have 26 weeks continuous service with their employer in order to make a request. Details requiring further clarification also include the format of applications and how these will be made to employers and also the consequences that employers can expect to be subject to if the rules are not complied with.
The Act seeks to introduce a legal and regulatory framework aimed at giving workers greater autonomy and consistency over working patterns. There are certain limitations placed on these rights in that these will apply only to those workers engaged on unpredictable working contracts, those workers on fixed term contracts of 12 months or less and agency workers.
Further, a restriction of a maximum of two applications can be made by any one worker in any year of service. The Act also seeks to set guidelines concerning what must be included in the request, including: express details of the change being requested and when this should come into force, the days that this may affect and the impact that this may have on the duration of the engagement of the worker with the employer.
The Act proposes a similar approach to the flexible working regime, in that the employer will be able to reject workers’ applications on certain specified grounds. Workers will be within their rights to bring a claim as to any procedural inadequacy of the employer and similarly if they suffer a detriment or are dismissed for any reason relating to the request made.
The notorious “gig economy” and more casual working arrangements have a firm place in the UK employment landscape. The Act will understandably raise concerns amongst those employers whose business models include employment on the basis of zero-hour contracts and more flexible working terms.
The scope of the Act may be widened further than just the obvious flexible contracts, this could include any contract where the hours of work are at the employer’s discretion, despite core hours being mentioned in the employment contract or any matter in respect of the workers ‘pattern of work’.
In order to adhere to the guidelines, it is essential that employers put in place robust polices for dealing with requests; for instance requesting employees put in requests with sufficient notice or to the correct HR contact or line manager. The Act requires employers to adhere to a one or two month period in which they must notify the worker of the status of their request and their decision on it.
As mentioned in our article on Labour’s ‘New Deal for Workers’, zero-hour contracts and patterns of unpredictable work are high on the policy agenda of all political parties, with an outright ban proposed by Labour in its New Deal. It is of paramount importance that employers seek to effectively consider the impact that these measures and greater autonomy for workers may have on their businesses. Particularly, employers need to be aware of the lawful reasons they may dismiss a request and must be vigilant in ensuring proper policies are implemented to ensure that requests are dealt with effectively and in-time.