What is the predictable work and conditions act and how will it change HR and working practices?

The UK government recently unveiled new legislation designed to target the controversial zero-hours contract. What is the act, and what will it mean for HR?

Bharat Jain • 
The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act

In a recent press release, titled, ‘Millions get more power over working hours thanks to new law’ the UK government unveiled its new legislation: The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act., which will grant employees the right to request a predictable work pattern.

But what does this mean for HR, and how will it change working practices going forward?

This law is targeting the controversial zero-hours contract

The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act is meant to target those situations where flexible working arrangements have become so unpredictable, that they are detrimental to the employee. This is often, (but not always the case), with the controversial zero-hours contract, which this law is targeting.

However, HR professionals should be aware that this law will not be confined to zero-hour contract situations and could be equally applicable to other contract arrangements, according to to Lewis Silkin HR lawyers

For example, a typical full-time (FTE) employment contract clause might stipulate core hours of work but state that, ‘such hours can be varied by management as they see fit’. Another quite common clause seen in FTE contracts isthat‘the employee is required to work necessary hours to fulfil the requirements of the role’. These two very common contractual arrangements arguably represent work patterns with a distinct lack of predictability to working hours which means they are likely to fall under the new legislation. 

While experts believe FTE employees with open-ended hours clauses are less likely to request a change under the act (than zero hours workers), employers will need to put in place processes to handle a request to change any kind of unpredictable work scenario, reasonably.

Will the new law bring an end to zero-hours contracts?

The implications for HR and working practices are significant but it doesn’t necessarily mean we will see the end of zero-hours contracts or open-ended working hours clauses.

Firstly, while employees will be able to request more predictable working hours under the act, employers can refuse such a request if doing so will have a detrimental effect on the business, (just like with flexible working requests).  

Also, when statutory flexible working requests went online, we witnessed an increase in reactive flexible working arrangements, followed by a general industry correction as employers began to introduce more flexible working conditions as a standard to meet changing needs. We didn’t witness a fixed-hours Armageddon, but a controlled transformation to a more flexible working environment, governed by a reasonably well-functioning flexible work legislation. We can probably expect similar again.

There won’t be a bonfire of zero-hours contracts – but perhaps a reduction in usage

Under this new legislation, we can expect to see a similarly ordered but reverse transformation from flexible toward more predictable working patterns. But we don’t expect to see a bonfire of zero-hours contracts, (not least because employers can refuse requests with sufficient justification). Rather, we may see a reduction in the use of zero-hours contracts where there isn’t sufficient business justification for potentially detrimental unpredictable work patterns.

This could lead to a wider industry recognition of the unpredictable work problem and a positive move towards more predictable and agreeable working conditions. This is the goal of the act. 

It will be a while before we see the potential fruits of this new predictable work arrangement legislation, because although it received Royal Assent on the 19th of September 2023, it is not expected to come into force for another year. 

This gives HR professionals and people managers adequate time to adjust to this new legislation and prepare to incorporate it into their business. 

Start by reading the new ACAS code of practice

So, where should employers start? In their press release on the 19th of September, the government indicated that ACAS was producing a new code of practice and urged employers to use this to prepare for the arrival of the new legislation.

As you read the code of practice it is clear that the process of handling predictable work requests shares many similarities with handling flexible working requests, so HR professionals won’t be shooting in the dark.

Just like with flexible working requests, under the predictable work legislation, requests for more predictable working hours need to be handled reasonably and within a specific time scale, and the employer can still choose to refuse a request if there is a genuine business reason behind this.

The predictable work legislation should serve to rebalance the working relationship and help to eliminate the use of detrimental unpredictable working arrangements while enabling mutually beneficial, win-win flexible working arrangements to continue unhindered.