The government’s Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill is likely to come into force in mid-2024, after achieving royal assent.

It covers not only working from home, but part-time, flexi-time, term-time and compressed hours, and because it’s applicable from day one in a job, it will apply to an extra 2.2m employees, the government estimates.

In practice, this means employees now have the right to request flexible working as soon as they start a new job and can make up to two requests a year (previously this was limited to one). Employers must consider requests and consult with the employee within two months (previously three months), and they have to give a reason if refused.

The new law also removes the previous onus on the individual to explain what effect flexible working would have on their employer and how it could be dealt with.

A happier workforce will result in increased productivity, says business and trade minister Kevin Hollinrake. “Not only does flexible working help individuals fit work alongside other commitments – whether it’s the school drop off, studying or caring for vulnerable friends and family – it’s good business sense too, helping firms to attract more talent, increase retention and improve workforce diversity.”

The call to work from home has become more of an issue for employers since millions of workers were forced to work from home because of the pandemic. This caused a shift in the working landscape with many employees questioning the need to go back to offices when covid restrictions ended.

Research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows 6% of employees changed their jobs last year because of a lack of flexible working and 12% left their profession for the same reason. This represents almost 2m and 4m workers respectively.

“Many organisations are facing the dual challenges of skills shortages and talent retention issues and we know that offering flexible working can go a long way towards tackling these problems,” says Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive and chair of the government’s flexible working taskforce.

“Employers that use a range of approaches can ensure flexible working provision is fair and available to all types of workers regardless of their job or sector.”