Since 2003, certain employees have had the legal right to request flexible working hours – those eligible are currently employees who:

  • Have children under the age of seventeen
  • Have disabled children under the age of eighteen
  • Care for certain adults aged 18 or over

In October 2012, however, the Government announced they would be extending this right to all employees as soon as ‘parliamentary time allows’.

The Government has said they are working closely with businesses to get the detail of the extension right but believe the change is good for businesses as it allows them to retain their best staff.

Of course, this extension to flexible working has its critics!  Smaller businesses will find it harder to comply with requests, and job share arrangements and home-working do incur additional costs for the Employer. And of course many people cannot afford cut their hours of work.

If you do not fit into any of the existing categories your employer still may be prepared to consider you working flexibly, although they have no legal responsibility to do so.

The current, legal, request to work flexibly can be made with regards to:

  • Hours of work (you may want to work flexi-time or do term-time working)
  • Times of work (shorter or different starting/ending times of work)
  • Place of work (you may want to work from home)

The request must be made in writing and your employer has a legal duty to consider your request seriously. However, your request can be refused if there are clear business reasons why they cannot accommodate your desired work pattern (which can include considering any additional costs that will be incurred by the business and/or whether it is possible to reorganise the work among existing workers).

If your request is approved this is a permanent change and you have no automatic right to change back to your previous pattern of work (unless a trial period or specified time period is agreed).

To be eligible to apply for the current flexible working legal arrangements you must:

  • Be an employee (not an agency worker or self-employed)
  • Have worked with your employer continuously for 26 weeks at the date you apply for flexible working (for more information about continuous service, read our Guide here).
  • Only apply to work flexibly once in every 12 months

And as a parent you must:

  • Have a child under eighteen (whether an able-bodied or disabled child) and have or expect to have responsibility for their upbringing
  • Be either the child’s mother, father, adopter, guardian or foster parent or be married to, or the partner of, any of the above
  • Apply no later than two weeks before the child’s eighteenth birthday

And as the carer of an adult who is in need of care you must be, or expect to be, caring for a spouse, partner, civil partner or relative, or if not any of these, you must live at the same address as the adult (aged 18 or over) in need of care.

More information about how you request Flexible Working

After you have made a request your employer needs to meet with you within 28 days (unless they agree to your request without needing a meeting). You can be accompanied to the meeting by a work colleague or Trade Union official if you wish.

After the meeting your employer needs to let you know their decision within 14 days. If they refuse your request they need to explain why (reasons to refuse your request that are legally acceptable are – additional costs; detrimental impact on their ability to meet customer demand; quality or performance; inability to re-organise work amongst existing staff or the need to recruit additional staff; planned structural changes).

If you are unhappy with your employer’s decision you can appeal against it.

If your request is refused again at appeal you should discuss the matter informally and/or contact your Trade Union official if you are a member, and/or use your employer’s grievance procedure, before finally complaining to an Employment Tribunal.

Direct.Gov have a summary of the steps in this process.

For more information see our guide on the Rights of Part-Time Workers.

Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.

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