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Flexible working – negotiating

Last updated: 2 Jul 2020

Although the law may be able to help you in relation to flexible working, it is always better to try to reach a negotiated agreement with your employer rather than taking legal action against them.

The ideal situation is one where the employer can see how the flexible work pattern will benefit them, as well as you.  This is sometimes called “making the business case”.

How to approach a flexible working negotiation

  • Do the ground work and start with an informal conversation.
  • Try to plan ahead and be prepared to suggest solutions to any of the problems they might raise.
  • Gather information about people who do similar jobs to yours on a flexible basis.
  • Think carefully about your situation and try to put forward the best proposal you can of how your new arrangement would work.
  • Approach negotiation in an open, positive manner, but also be careful about how and when you approach your employer in case you cannot reach agreement.
  • Keep notes of your meetings, and of anything that is agreed along the way, including trial periods.
  • Explain why you need the new work pattern and mention if it is because of childcare or disability.
  • For a detailed step by step guide for employees choosing a new work pattern, in particular with regards to negotiation, see part 4 here.

Top tips for negotiating generally

  • Aim high and be prepared to settle for less.
  • Make sure you know what you are asking for and make sure you ask for it. Think about your objectives carefully – what do you want out of this negotiation? What is the best alternative? What is your longer-term strategy?
  • Don’t expect to get everything that you ask for. Plan for your concessions in advance, and plan for your employer’s objections.
  • Make compromises where possible to allow the negotiations to move forward. You should take a collaborative approach.
  • When in a negotiation, don’t be tempted to fill silence if your manager is thinking or taking time to respond.
  • Don’t wait for the last minute before you make your request, allow plenty of time.
  • Suggest a trial period, so that you can see if it works out.
  • Put yourself in your manager’s shoes, what is reasonable? You should think like your employer. Be aware of how they may perceive your request, and try to bridge the gap.
  • Offer as much flexibility as you can on your side of the proposal, so that your manager knows that you are willing to be flexible too.
  • You should be tough on issues, but soft on people. Focus on maintaining the relationship with your employer.

When negotiation doesn’t work

A final step may be to look at making a claim in the employment tribunal.   With this in mind it is useful to make a note of all conversations with your employer and to put things in writing wherever possible. If in doubt then seek advice before approaching your employer.

If your employer fails to seriously consider your request, or fails to follow the correct procedure, you may be able to bring a claim at employment tribunal.  A flexible working claim may sometimes be combined with other claims – for example if a woman is denied part time working, she may be able to claim indirect sex discrimination, so seek advice and remember that there are strict time limits (usually three months less one day from your request being refused) to start a claim.

For an example of the sort of information you will need to provide when bringing a claim in the employment tribunal if your employer has refused your flexible working request, see our example  here.

This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 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.

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The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.