Flexible working gives employees the chance to fit other commitments and activities around work and improve their work-life balance. Employers recognise that there are benefits to their business of allowing employees to work flexibly. This includes improved productivity, a lower absence rate and a more motivated, less stressed workforce.
Flexible working involves rearranging working time and/or locations. It can include the following:
You can combine any of these working patterns to come up with something to suit your circumstances.
Anyone can ask their employer for flexible work arrangements, but the government has introduced a statutory right to apply for flexible working. You have the right to ask for flexible working - not the right to have it.
Having a statutory right means that your employer must seriously consider your application to work flexibly. By law, your application can only be refused for certain specific business reasons. See 'Grounds for refusal', below.
To be eligible to make a statutory flexible working request, you must at the date of your request:
Employees in Northern Ireland have to meet extra criteria to qualify. You will qualify if you make an application to care for:
If you have the right to apply, then there is a process that you must follow.
In order for a flexible working application to be valid, it must:
Those in Northern Ireland must also confirm:
You should allow plenty of time between the date of the application and the date you want the flexible working arrangement to start. This will allow your employer time to look at your application and assess whether or not they can accommodate it.
Employers should make the decision on whether or not to grant a request solely on business grounds.
If your flexible working request is accepted, this is likely to result in a permanent change to your contractual terms and conditions. If you are concerned about this, you could either suggest that you work flexibly over a trial period or ask your employer to agree that the arrangement will be temporary.
Your employer must follow the procedure for dealing with applications that is set out in the. They must:
1. Consider all requests reasonably.
2. Deal with all requests, including any appeals, within 3 months from the date your application is received. A time extension can be mutually agreed between you and your employer.
3. Only refuse your application on one or more of a small number of permitted business grounds.
According to the Acas code your employer should, but is not legally required to:
If you were to later make a claim to an employment tribunal about your flexible working request, the tribunal would take into account the Acas code when considering the claim. The code is accompanied by an Acas guide:.
Your employer's legal obligations when dealing with an application include:
Your employer should arrange the meeting at an appropriate time and place that is convenient for all.
Your companion can speak at the meeting and confer with you during it, but can't answer questions on your behalf.
If you work in Northern Ireland, your employer must pay both you and your companion for the time off from your normal working duties to attend the meeting.
If you are unable to attend the meeting, you should contact your employer as soon as possible to explain your absence and allow your employer to rearrange it.
If you fail to attend the meeting more than once without a reasonable explanation, your employer can treat your application as withdrawn. This will mean that you won't be able to make a further application for 12 months.
You must be informed of your employer's decision as soon as possible. Note that all requests, including any appeals, must be decided by your employer within 3 months from the date your application is received.
If more time is needed to consider your request, this must be agreed with you first.
The Acas code states that your employer's decision should be put in writing and if your application has been accepted, it is recommended that your employer should:
Your employer must notify you of their decision within 14 days of the meeting to discuss your flexible working request.
If more time is needed to consider your request, this must be agreed with you first.
If your employer accepts your flexible working request, they must write to you:
Your employer must only refuse your statutory flexible working application if it impacts the business on one or more of the following grounds:
If none of these grounds have been used to refuse the request, you should appeal the decision.
For requests made in Northern Ireland, your employer's refusal must be given to you in writing stating which of the business grounds apply. This should include the key facts about why the business ground applies and must be accurate and relevant.
Your employer must also set out the appeal procedure.
In England, Wales and Scotland, your employer is not legally required to put the reasons for your refusal in writing.
Your employer should comply with the Acas code, which states that it should give you an opportunity to appeal the decision.
The Acas code doesn't state by how or by when an appeal should be made by you, if you want to appeal the decision. However, you must set out the grounds for making the appeal. There are no restrictions on the number or kinds of grounds of appeal you may use.
Check your employer's staff handbook for any flexible working policy, if it has one. In any event, your employer must follow a reasonable appeal procedure.
Where possible, the appeal should be heard by a different manager than the one who refused your request. Your employer should, but is not legally required to, allow you to be accompanied to any appeal meeting by a work colleague.
If a meeting is arranged to discuss the appeal and you can't attend it, you should contact your employer as soon as possible to explain the reasons for their absence so it can be rearranged. If you then fail to attend the rearranged appeal meeting without a good reason, your employer can treat the appeal as withdrawn. This will mean that you won't be able to make a further statutory request for flexible working for another 12 months.
Your employer must inform you of the outcome of your appeal, but is not legally required to put it in writing.
You have a legal right to appeal your employer's decision. If you want to exercise this right, you must make the appeal in writing within 14 days of receiving the written notice refusing your application.
In the appeal notice, they must set out the grounds for making the appeal. There are no restrictions on the number or kinds of grounds of appeal you may use.
Your employer must then arrange an appeal in meeting within 14 days of receiving your appeal notice. Where possible, your appeal should be heard by a different manager than the one who refused your request.
You must be allowed to be accompanied to the meeting by a colleague or certified trade union representative working in your employer's business. You must be informed of the outcome of your appeal by your employer in writing and within 14 days after the meeting.
There may be occasions where you feel that your employer has not satisfactorily dealt with your application. The following sets out what can be done in an attempt to resolve this.
Your employer may first try to sort out any problems informally, by discussing it with you (preferably in a meeting).
If you still feel that the issue has not been resolved, you should use your employer's grievance procedure.
If the problem cannot be resolved internally, you could try using an external third-party mediator or conciliator, such as, or a union representative. Note that in England, Wales and Scotland, you have to use the Acas early conciliation scheme before starting a tribunal claim (see for more information).
You may make a complaint to an employment tribunal where:
The employment tribunal doesn't have the power to question your employer's business reasons, although it can examine the facts on which the business reason was based to see if they are factually correct. However, if you bring a case jointly with other legislation, e.g. discrimination legislation, an employment tribunal may try to look at how the request was considered. A tribunal will want to see evidence:
An employment tribunal can order your employer to:
For applications made in Northern Ireland there is a separate award of up to 2 weeks' pay where an employer fails to allow you to be accompanied at a meeting.
You must not be treated detrimentally or be dismissed by your employer for any reason relating to your flexible working request.
You can make a complaint to an employment tribunal if you suffer a detriment or are dismissed because you:
Dismissal means the termination of your employment, with or without notice, including redundancy selection and the non-renewal of a fixed-term contract. It could also include constructive dismissal, i.e. where you resign believing your employer has substantially breached your contract of employment.
In some circumstances, rejecting your flexible working request could cause you to claim for discrimination on grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, sex, sexual orientation, or religion/belief (in England, Wales and Scotland) or religious belief/political opinion (in Northern Ireland).
For example, if you're a woman returning from maternity leave to work part-time and your application was rejected, this could be indirect sex discrimination as a greater proportion of women than men have the main parental caring responsibility. Requiring you to work full-time, therefore, puts you at a disadvantage compared to your male colleagues.
Other rights that help you take time off work to care for others are: