Flexible working requests: ten things you need to know
Published: 6 Oct 2016
Everyone who’s worked for their employer for 26 weeks is eligible to apply formally for flexible working. Flexible working means changing your hours or working arrangements – you don’t need to have childcare or family responsibilities to make a request. You could be asking for flexible working for anything from pursuing a new qualification to looking after a new pet.
We hear about a variety of different flexible working arrangements. Some of these are permanent while others are for a fixed time. The flexible working needs we hear about most often are related to the availability of childcare, travel time, affordability, and work life balance. Some of the arrangements we have advised on are: homeworking, job shares, compressed hours, term-time working, annualised hours, early or late start or finish times, fixed shifts, a different shift pattern and ‘flexitime’.
In our experience the success or failure of these arrangements often depends upon the support of management. So it’s important to get good advice about your flexible working request.
Our legal advice team has a wealth of experience advising on applying for and negotiating flexible working. Please look at our advice and resources to help you with flexible working queries.
Here are ten things you need to know about flexible working requests:
- Don’t make a flexible working request when what you want is to maintain your current working pattern. This applies even if your current working pattern is not written down in your contract of employment. Find out more about this issue.
- Your employer can’t just ignore your flexible working request and must respond to it in a reasonable way. This includes in relation to how long it takes to provide you with a reply.
- Employers must be able to justify refusing to allow women returning from maternity leave to move on to part-time hours. It is difficult for employers to justify a policy that employees must all work full-time.
- Be careful to ensure that your duties in any flexible working arrangement are clearly defined. Sometimes the focus of negotiations can become hours, times and salary – for obvious reasons – but it should also be clear to you what your employer expects you to do. Make sure you’re not expected to carry out a full-time role in part-time hours.
- When your employer confirms your flexible working arrangement, it is not appropriate for your employer, line manager or colleagues to make negative comments about your work pattern. This could mean you are able to bring a legal claim, depending on the circumstances.
- When making a flexible working request you have to explain the effect you think the change would have on your employer. But don’t forget to be positive and emphasise how well the arrangement may work. This includes any points about your good work record and experience in your role.
- Check whether your employer has a policy which sets out what it wants you to include in your application. As a minimum make sure your flexible working request addresses each of the points set out in our sample letter.
- It might be worth exploring the possibility of a trial period with your employer. This can be effective when you think your employer is likely to reject your request but you believe you could make it work.
- If you’re hoping to return from maternity leave with a different working pattern, it is important that you make your flexible working request quite soon after your baby arrives as your employer has three months to respond. You will usually be better off if you make a formal request. There is a risk that your situation on your return to work will become complex if you don’t make the request early and ensure that the request is progressed by your employer. You may have certain legal claims which you could bring but your employer could force you to return to work on your previous arrangement until the situation is resolved.
- If your employer refuses your request you can bring a claim on one or more of the following grounds:
- Your employer failed to deal with your application in a reasonable manner.
- Your employer failed to notify you of its decision within the decision period.
- Your employer rejected your application for a reason other than the eight statutory grounds.
- Your employer based their decision to reject the application on incorrect facts.
- Your employer treated the application as withdrawn when it was not entitled to
The Employment Tribunal can order your employer to reconsider its decision and can order compensation. From April 2016, compensation is limited to a maximum award of £3,832. Therefore, particularly in light of Tribunal fees, it may not be financially worthwhile going down this route unless you have another claim you could bring.
Please contact us if you have questions about flexible working or your employment rights relating to family or caring responsibilities. We’re here to help.
Watch our new flexible working film for more information on your right to request flexible working.
By Claire Gilbert, Working Families Legal Advice Service Manager