What is flexible working?
Any employee with 26 weeks of service with the same employer has the right to make a request to work flexibly. You don’t have to be a parent or carer.
‘Flexible working’ means altering the way you work. Examples of kinds of flexible working that you can request include:
- reducing your hours to work part-time
- changing your start and finish times
- having flexibility with your start and finish time (sometimes known as ‘flexitime’)
- doing your hours over fewer days (‘compressed hours’)
- working from home or elsewhere (‘remote working’)
- sharing the job with someone else (‘job share’)
This article applies to England, Wales and Scotland. Rules on how requests for flexible working are dealt with are different in Northern Ireland.
Before you make the request, you should speak to your employer informally first and have a look at our advice on how to negotiate your request.
Making the request
Any employee with at least 26 weeks service can make a request. An employee can only make one request under the statutory regime in any 12-month period.
There is no form, but in order to qualify as a statutory request, it must:
- Be in writing.
- Be dated.
- Explain the change they would like to their working pattern.
- Explain when they would like the change to come into force.
- Explain what effect the change would have on the business.
- Explain how such effects might be dealt with.
- State that it is a statutory request.
- State if the employee has made a request previously and if so when.
We also have useful advice on how to present and negotiate your request.
Important: You should state in your letter if you are making your request in relation to the Equality Act or if you are asking for flexible working to care for a child or disabled person. You should also include detail about the impact on family life if it is turned down.
What happens after you make a request
Once you make a request for flexible working, your employer has three months to give you a decision. This can be extended by agreement.
Your employer has an obligation to consider your request and not to unreasonably deny it. Your employer can only refuse your request for ‘permitted business reason’. These are:
- Burden of additional costs.
- Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.
- Inability to reorganise work among existing staff.
- Inability to recruit additional staff.
- Detrimental impact on quality.
- Detrimental impact on performance.
- Insufficiency of work during the periods you propose to work.
- Planned structural changes.
They may also refuse your request if you are not eligible to make it (e.g., if you have not been employed for 26 weeks or you have already made a request in the last 12 months).
The only way an employer can breach the procedure is by not giving a permitted reason, taking longer than three months to give you a decision, or by giving reasons that are not factually correct.
The ACAS guide sets out things that employers should do as good practice in considering a flexible working request. While there is nothing unlawful in the employer failing to do these things (the code uses the word “should” for things that are recommended but not legally required) an employment tribunal would take into account whether the employer had followed these steps.
For instance, an employer should:
- Arrange to discuss the request with the employee as soon as possible
- Inform the employee if there is likely to be delay in processing the request
- Consider the request carefully, looking at the benefits (for you but potentially also for the business) and weighing these against any adverse business impact of implementing the changes you request
- Allow the employee to discuss a refusal where there is new information or if the employee thinks the request wasn’t handled reasonably
- Deal with appeals as quickly as possible where they are allowed
Your employer may (but is not required to) invite you to a meeting to discuss your flexible working request. There is no suggestion that the meeting should be face-to-face, a meeting over telephone would be acceptable.
The guidance says it is good practice to allow the employee to be accompanied by a colleague but does not say that the employer must or even should allow this.
If you cannot attend a meeting, your employer should rearrange it. If you fail to attend two meetings then the employer can take your request to be withdrawn, although they should find out and consider your reasons for not attending first.
This guidance applies to initial meetings and (where allowed) appeal meetings.
It is important to note that if your flexible working request is accepted, it will form a permanent change to your contract unless you or your employer specifies that the arrangement should be temporary.
It is common for employers to allow a trial period of 3 or 6 months of a flexible working arrangement. It may be useful to propose a trial period if your employer is reluctant to accept the request, to convince your employer that the arrangement will work.
If your employer gives you a trial period, you can agree with your employer to extend the time for them to make a final decision on your flexible working beyond three months of your original request.
What to do if your employer refuses your request
If your employer refuses your request, see our articles on What to do if your flexible working request is refused, and Flexible Working and discrimination.
Frequently asked questions
Here are some of the most common questions about flexible working that we receive on our helpline.
My employer hasn’t followed the flexible working procedure properly
First of all, make sure that you have made a formal request for flexible working which contains all the points required by the law. Keep a diary of what happens so you can be sure about how your employer has breached the procedure.
You could send them a letter (keep a copy) reminding them of the time limit for the written decision, and, if you still don’t get a response, go to the next stage of the procedure, an internal appeal or a grievance.
For more, see our article on what to do if your flexible working request is refused.
My employer has given other people part time work but won’t give it to me
Although your employer’s treatment may seem unfair, it is not necessarily illegal. Employers are allowed to treat people differently, as long as it is not unlawful discrimination.
Rather than arguing that things are unfair (which is unlikely to help you get what you want), think about these points:
- Is there some form of discrimination? For example, you may think your employer has not given you flexible working because you are a man. Or you may think that your employer’s refusal of your request is indirect sex discrimination because it has more impact on women as a group. For more information, see our article on flexible working and discrimination.
- You may be able to show that your proposed flexible working arrangement would be successful because someone doing a similar job has changed their working pattern and it has worked well. Maybe you can use this as evidence to show how your own change would fit into the workplace. On the other hand, sometimes it is harder to argue for part-time hours because other people are already part-time, and your employer has a genuine need for any remaining staff to be full-time.
Can I take my friend or colleague to a meeting with my employer?
You don’t have the right to take a friend or colleague to a flexible working meeting. It may be worth asking a colleague even if initially you think it would put them in a difficult position. You can agree on their level of involvement and just ask them to be there for moral support or to make notes.
You can ask your employer if they would agree to your taking a friend or colleague, although they don’t have to let you.
Even if you go to the meeting on your own, it’s a good idea to run through what you want to say with a friend or colleague beforehand to help you feel more confident. Check with your employer, sometimes they will let non-colleagues (for example Trade Union Representatives) attend meetings (although they don’t have to).
This advice applies in England, Wales and Scotland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.