If you employ workers on a temporary basis, use agency workers, or have workers on zero-hours contracts in your business, it is important for you to be aware of a new law which has just passed through parliament.
Between April and June of this year, the ONS estimated that nearly 1.2 million people were on zero-hours contracts. Add to that over 1.5 million temporary and agency workers in the UK and you have a significant part of the working population living with the realities of unpredictable employment.
The new law aims to give those people working under these types of contract more predictability in their working patterns.
We’ve set out some of the key provisions below to help you get prepared for what’s happening.
Predictable working patterns
The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act 2023 received Royal Assent on 18th September.
The law will allow workers the right to apply to their employer for a ‘predictable working pattern’. This can cover various aspects of how they work, such as:
- The number of hours
- Which days of the week
- What times of the day
- The overall duration of their contract
Making an application for a predictable working pattern will start a formal process, which will place certain legal obligations on you as their employer. In particular, you must consider your worker’s request in a reasonable manner and come to a decision within 1 month of their application.
If you accept their request, you must then provide your worker with a new contract to reflect this new predictable working pattern. The new contract must not contain any terms which make it less favourable to the worker overall, and it must be provided to them within 2 weeks of your agreement to the application.
If you refuse the request, however, you are obliged to communicate this decision to your worker and provide your reasons for doing so.
At the time of writing, you will only be able to refuse an application on one or more of the following grounds:
- The burden of additional costs
- It would detrimentally affect the ability to meet customer demand
- It would detrimentally affect the recruitment of other staff
- It would detrimentally affect other aspects of the business
- There is not enough work during the periods they have proposed to work
- Planned structural changes
ACAS has announced it will be providing a code of conduct in relation to handling these requests.
Which workers can apply?
The law will apply to workers on ‘atypical’ contracts, which can include:
- Workers on zero-hours contracts
- Workers whose contract is for a fixed term of 12 months or less
- Workers whose contract does not specify certain hours, days, or times of work
- Agency workers (subject to special provisions outlined below)
However, there is a requirement that the worker must have worked for you for a minimum time period in order to be able to make an application. The period for this has not yet been finalised, but is expected to be 26 weeks. It is acknowledged that this wouldn’t need to be a continuous period of work, given the nature of the unpredictable working relationships which the Act targets.
Also, workers can only make a maximum of 2 applications in any 12-month period. And a second application cannot be made whilst one is already in progress.
If you have agency workers working in your organisation, the right to apply for a predictable working pattern is more complicated.
The agency worker can make applications to their agency – as their employer – but there are also circumstances in which they can make an application to you, as the organisation to which they have been supplied.
These circumstances are:
- Where there is a lack of predictability in the work that they do for you regarding their work pattern;
- The changes they are seeking relate to their work pattern; and
- Their purpose for applying is to get a more predictable work pattern
However, in order to direct their application towards you, they must meet the following requirements as well:
- The agency worker must have worked in your organisation for at least 12 continuous calendar weeks (this can be over several assignments – the time period in which these weeks will be counted is expected to be 26 weeks though is still to be finalised); and
- They held the same role during those 12 continuous calendar weeks as at the time of making the application
Infringing these rights
Under this new law, if you do not meet your obligations as an employer – for example, if you do not follow the procedure outlined above, or you dismiss an application without reasonable consideration or a valid reason – the worker in question may have grounds to bring a legal claim in the Employment Tribunal.
Depending on the circumstances, the Employment Tribunal may order you to reconsider the application and/or award financial compensation to the worker.
When will the new law take effect?
The government expects the new law to come into force roughly one year after it received Royal Assent – meaning it is likely to take effect in September 2024.
Need help with an employment law matter?
If your business could be affected by the changes discussed above, it is best to start preparing your policies and procedures now.
At Truth Legal, we can provide businesses with advice and support on all aspects of employment law, as well as expert assistance in resolving any legal issues you’re facing in the workplace.
Please feel free to get in touch with us if you have any matters you would like to discuss.