If your brain is working overtime thinking about how to juggle work and your child, flexible working might be your saviour. Here’s what you need to know..
Flexible working: the basics
If you have children and a job, flexible working could be the holy grail that helps your life run more smoothly. Here’s what you need to know.
"Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee's needs, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home (Gov.uk, no date)."
Working Families has produced this video to help you understand your right to request flexible working:
Flexible working can include:
- Flexi time: Choosing when to work (usually there are core hours when you have to work).
- Annualised hours: Hours are worked out over a year but with some flexibility (there are often some set shifts or hours).
- Compressed hours: Working your agreed hours over fewer, but longer, days.
- Staggered hours: Different starting, break and finishing times for employees in the same workplace.
- Job sharing: Sharing a job designed for one person with someone else.
- Working from home: More time at home and cost/time savings on travel time.
- Part time: Working fewer than normal hours, perhaps by working fewer days per week.
(Gov.uk, no date)
Who can ask for flexible working?
You’re entitled to request flexible working for any reason - not just due to being a parent or having someone else to look after (Gov.uk, no date).
To be eligible though, you must:
- have been employed by your employer for at least 26 weeks,
- be legally classed as an employee, and
- have not made a request in the last 12-month period (whether it was granted or refused).
Remember, the right to request flexible working doesn’t give you a right to get a yes. But it does mean that your employer has to properly consider flexible working as an option for you, has to make a decision within three months and can only refuse if there is a good business reason (Acas, 2020; Gov.uk, no date).
If you put in a flexible working application, it has to:
- Be made in writing and dated.
- Specify the change you want and when you’d want that change to take effect.
- Explain what effect, if any, you think the change would have on your employer and how that could be dealt with.
- Say whether you have previously made an application and, if so, when.
(Gov.uk, no date)
You might find these sample letters from Working Families a useful starting point.
It’s also worth looking at your organisation’s flexible working policy, as this might offer a bit of guidance on what to include in your application (Working Families, 2021).
After getting your request, your boss has to deal with it in a ‘reasonable manner’. This could include:
- Discussing your request with you.
- Holding a meeting where your request is discussed.
- Considering the request carefully by weighing up the benefits versus any adverse business impact.
- Allowing you to appeal if your initial request is refused so that you can correct any misunderstandings or explore other options.
(Acas, 2014; Maternity Action, 2020)
Within three months of your request being made, they have to let you know their decision. If you both agree though, that three-month window can be extended (Acas, 2014; Gov.uk, no date; Maternity Action, 2020).
If your request is refused, your employer has to give you their reasons (Gov.uk, no date; Maternity Action, 2020).
If they say yes to your request, your employer must give you a written statement of changes to the terms and conditions of your employment (Acas, 2014). This should be done within 28 days of the request being approved (Maternity Action, 2019).
Your employer has the right to refuse your request on the basis of any of the following:
- It will cost the business too much money.
- It will detrimentally affect the business meeting customer demands.
- Inability to re-organise work among existing staff.
- Inability to recruit additional staff.
- Detrimental impact on quality.
- Detrimental impact on performance.
- Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
- Planned structural changes.
(Gov.uk, no date; Acas, 2014)
You don’t have a statutory right to appeal the decision but most workplaces will have an appeals process, usually involving putting your reasons for appealing in writing (Maternity Action, 2020).
So if you think your application should have got through, do consider doing this. If you are unable to reach an agreement, you could consider:
- making a formal complaint ('raising a grievance')
- making a claim to an employment tribunal
- using the Acas arbitration scheme
- reaching an agreement through mediation (Acas, no date)
If you change your mind, you can withdraw your request at any point during the process (Citizens Advice, no date; Gov.uk, no date).
This page was last reviewed in February 2022.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of our NCT New Baby courses helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Working Families is the UK’s national charity for working parents and carers. The charity's mission is to remove the barriers that people with caring responsibilities face in the workplace. You can call their free legal advice helpline on 0300 012 0312 or use the online contact form on this page.
ACAS offers advice on flexible working and the Code of Practice on handling requests. You can call their helpline on 0300 123 1100.
Gov.uk information on flexible working and application forms.
Maternity Action has information on maternity rights and you can call their helpline on helpline 0845 600 8533.
Acas. (2014) Handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly. Available from: ttps://www.acas.org.uk/acas-code-of-practice-on-flexible-working-requests/html [Accessed 25 February 2022]
Acas. (2020) Making a flexible working request. Available from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1616 [Accessed 25 February 2022]
Citizens Advice. (no date) Flexible working - discussing your request with your employer. Available from: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/rights-at-work/flexible-working/… [Accessed 25 February 2022]
Gov.uk. (no date) Flexible working. Available from: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/rights-at-work/flexible-working/flexible-working-discussing-your-request-with-your-employer/ [Accessed 25 February 2022]
Maternity Action. (2020) Child friendly working hours. Available from: https://maternityaction.org.uk/advice/child-friendly-working-hours/ [Ac… 25 February 2022]
Working Families. (2021) Tips for negotiating flexible working. Available from: https://workingfamilies.org.uk/articles/flexible-working-negotiating/ [Accessed 25 February 2022]