Parenting tip

The right to request flexible working does not give you a right to work flexibly - but it does mean that your employer has to consider your request properly.

Flexible working: Your right to a request

What is flexible working and how do you request it? Find out more about flexible working hours, your rights, making an application in the UK and the potential benefits here.

Flexible working can be a great option for parents as it can help you to gain the right work-life balance adapted to meet the needs of your family and career.

This article covers the following subjects on your right to request flexible working:
Am I entitled to flexible working hours?
What is flexible working?
How do I make a flexible working request?
What happens next?
What if my flexible working request is granted?
What if my flexible working request is refused?
Appealing a decision
Withdrawing a request
Further information

Working Families has produced this video to help employees understand their right to request flexible working.

Am I entitled to flexible working hours?

The Children and Families Act 2014 came into force on 30 June 2014 and introduced key changes to flexible working. Most notably, the right to request flexible working has been extended to all employees who are entitled to request flexible working for any reason - not just due to caring responsibilities.

Employees still have to meet the eligibility criteria:

  • You must be an employee - agency workers do not have a statutory right to request flexible working.
  • The right applies to you once you have been employed with the same employer for 26 weeks or more.
  • You can only make one request in any 12-month period.

It is important to note that the right to request flexible working does not give you a right to work flexibly - but it does mean that your employer has to consider your request properly. 

What is flexible working?

Flexible working describes any type of working pattern which has been adapted to suit your needs. Common types of flexible working include:

  • Flexi time: choosing when to work (usually there is a core period during which you have to work).
  • Annualised hours: your hours are worked out over a year (often set shifts with you deciding when to work the other hours).
  • Compressed hours: working your agreed hours over fewer 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.
  • Part time: working less than the normal hours, perhaps by working fewer days per week.

The type of flexible working you request will obviously depend on your job, commitments and family needs.

How do I make a flexible working request?

The old procedures have been replaced by a less prescriptive statutory scheme. Your flexible working application must:

  • Be in writing and dated.
  • State that it is an application made under the statutory procedure.
  • Specify the change you are seeking and when you wish the change to take effect.
  • Explain what effect, if any, you think the change would have on your employer and how any such effect could be dealt with.
  • State whether you have previously made an application and, if so, when.

You might find these sample letters from Working Families a useful starting point.

If you are disabled and your request amounts to a ‘reasonable adjustment’ you should say so in your application.

It’s also worth taking a look at your organisation’s flexible working policy, as this may offer further guidance on what to include in your application.

What happens next?

After receiving your request, your employer must deal with it in a ‘reasonable manner’. According to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Code this includes discussing your request with you, allowing you to be accompanied to the meeting where your request is discussed (though there is no legal right to be accompanied), consider the request carefully by looking at the benefits of the requested changes to you and the employer’s business, and weighing these against any adverse business impact.

Within three months of the date your request was made, your employer must give you their decision. This period can be extended by mutual agreement.

If your request is refused, your employer must give you their reasons.

Your employer may wish to offer a trial period if they are unsure that your request could work. The legislation doesn’t regulate trial periods and you don’t have a right to request a trial period. However, you may be able to argue that in failing to offer a trial period your employer has not dealt with your request in a ‘reasonable manner’.

What if my flexible working request is granted?

If your request is granted, your employer must give you a written statement of changes to the terms and conditions of your employment within one month of the changes taking effect.

This will mean that there is a permanent change to the terms and conditions of your employment, so you cannot go back to your old arrangement without your employer’s consent.

What if my flexible working request is refused?

Your employer can refuse your request if it doesn’t meet the statutory requirements, i.e. if you are not eligible or have failed to comply with the procedure. Refusal can also be based on one or more of the following eight reasons:

  1. The burden of additional costs.
  2. Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demands.
  3. Inability to re-organise work among existing staff.
  4. Inability to recruit additional staff.
  5. Detrimental impact on quality.
  6. Detrimental impact on performance.
  7. Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
  8. Planned structural changes.

Unfortunately, the wide range of reasons that employers now have to reject a request could make it harder for employees to ensure their request is accepted under the new framework. It's still important though to follow the correct procedure and give your request proper consideration in order to give it the best possible chance of being accepted.

Appealing a decision

Unlike the old procedures, the new statutory scheme doesn’t expressly require employers to allow employees a right of appeal. However, the ACAS Code recommends that appeals should be permitted. To find out more about how to appeal, as well as complaints and remedies, take a look at Slater & Gordon’s factsheet ‘Flexible Working’.

Withdrawing a request

You can withdraw your request at any time after it is made. However, you will be unable to make another request for 12 months from the date of your initial request.

Updated November 2016

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups 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 leading work-life balance organisation. The charity helps working parents and carers and their employers find a better balance between responsibilities at home and work. You can call their helpline on 0300 012 0312 or email: advice@workingfamilies.org.uk.

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. 

Yesslaw provides advice and help with resolving disputes at work, as well as information on shared parental leave. Call 020 3701 7530/7531 or email info@yesslaw.org.uk.