You may have seen our ebriefing earlier this year following the Government’s announcement in support of the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill 2022-23. Well, things have swiftly moved on and on 19 September 2023, the Bill was given Royal Assent. 

What does Royal Assent mean?

The Bill now becomes the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act or the Predictable Terms Act for short. Whilst it might have a new title, the Act does not bring in any immediate change. The Act and accompanying secondary legislation are expected to come into force in approximately 12 months to give employers time to prepare. A new code of practice is expected from ACAS with a first consultative draft later this autumn.    

To recap, what will the Act introduce?

The Act will introduce the right for workers and employees to make a formal application to request a change to their hours to create a more predictable pattern of work but only if the following circumstances apply:

  • the request must relate to changes to the employee/worker work pattern and the aim should be to achieve a more predictable work pattern
  • there is a lack of predictability in relation to hours of work or if they are on a fixed-term contract for less than 12 months
  • the employee/worker has worked a minimum period before they can make this request – this is expected to be around 26 weeks (mirroring the current right to request flexible working)

So, what does this mean for the employer?

Do I need to get rid of all zero-hours contracts?

To be clear, the Act only gives employees/workers the right to make an application to request predictability in their hours (subject to meeting minimum period criteria).

This does not mean that an employer needs to review and change all the terms of all employees/workers who have unpredictable work patterns. Nor does not mean all employees/workers on such work patterns need to make a request. For many workers, a less predictable pattern of work suits their needs.   

If I do receive a request, when do I need to respond by?

Once the legislation is in force (most likely in autumn 2024) on receiving the application to request a change (and subject to the employee/worker meeting the criteria), the employer will have one month to formally respond notifying the employee/worker of their decision.

How do I avoid getting it wrong?

We hope that the ACAS Code of Practice will assist in the processes and add some flesh to the bare bones of the Act. We can also help you prepare for the changes and assist you in designing your policies and procedures to ensure that you comply with the legal obligations.   

In what circumstances can an employer refuse an application?

An employer may be able to reject a request under certain grounds and these will be set out in the Regulations when they come into force. An employee/worker will only be able to make two requests per year. Any request in addition to this can be refused by the employer. 

What does this mean for the future of atypical contracts?

The spirit of the Act is described as intending to redress the imbalance of power between some employers and employees/workers in atypical work (such as zero-hour contracts). Alternatively, it allows individuals who require more structured work the right to request it, while allowing those who thrive in the flexibility to continue with atypical working.

Preparatory steps 

This could open a floodgate of requests or conversely a mere trickle; we don’t know at this point.  However, we would advise taking the following steps;

  • What are the dominant working patterns within your organisation? If unpredictable patterns of work are key to your organisation you may want to consider whether there is scope for change. 
  • Would guaranteed hours contracts work for some workers? Could regular workers on zero-hours contracts be made more permanent?
  • Do you have an understanding of your workforce satisfaction – do those with unpredictable work patterns enjoy the flexibility? Use your HR teams to do some research so that you have an understanding of whether this new right is one many or a few of your staff would be interested in.
  • Start thinking about your policies and procedures around it, and if you can introduce the right before it becomes the law – giving you the time to test out your approach before the legal obligations kick in.  

If you would like to discuss this further, please do get in touch with us.