Under UK law, employees in England, Scotland and Wales (Northern Ireland has separate legislation), are entitled to make a flexible working application to their employer if they have been working for them for 26 weeks.
Whilst this was a right open only to parents and carers previously, the laws extend it now to all employees, and can be used by those seeking a different working pattern for any reason – such as wishing to combine work with study or hobbies, looking to partially retire, or wanting to work from home to reduce commuting time and costs. The application process, as well as the rights and responsibilities of both the employer and employee, are set out in the law, and guidance notes are available for both parties through the government and ACAS, the UK arbitration service.
If you’re considering making a flexible working application, read on; the steps you will need to follow are summarised below, so you can check your eligibility and options before seeking more detailed advice and committing to the application.
Eligibility and options
You are eligible to submit one flexible working application a year, provided that you have been employed by the business for at least 26 weeks from the time of applying. You may choose to apply for a whole range of flexible working options, depending on your circumstances – for example:
- Job share
- Part-time working
- Work from home
- Flexible hours
- Annualised hours
- Staggered shift patterns
- Phased retirement
Employers should consider your application on its merits, and you may find it beneficial to talk through your thoughts about flexible working with your boss or HR Manager before submitting a formal request, as this may help shape your thoughts on the type of flexibility that could suit both you and the business.
How to apply
To make a statutory flexible working application, you must set out your application in writing, and detail that it is a statutory request. In your letter, you can confirm the arrangements that would suit you. It is in your interests to detail how the business could continue to function if your request if accepted – for example, if you wish to move to part-time hours, who would pick up the work you can no longer do, or if you wish to work from home, what additional support or technology might you need.
The employer in turn has a responsibility to be ’reasonable’ in your request’s treatment. That basically means that they must assess the request on its merits, meet with you to discuss it, and then offer a right of appeal should they refuse the request. Many businesses will have internal policies which go far beyond this minimum requirement, and will be happy to work with you to navigate the process.
The employer must reply to your request within three months, and although they can refuse requests for a number of business reasons, they should be able to explain to you why the request is not possible. If your request is accepted, it should result in a contractual change so that your new working status is legally binding. Some employers add a ’trial period’ into their policies to allow both the employer and employee to try out the new arrangement and see how it suits.
What if you wish to complain?
If your request is refused, you have a right to appeal following the company appeal process. You should be able to get details of this process from your manager or HR Department. If your appeal is unsuccessful and you do not feel your employer has been fair and reasonable in how they have handled your case, you then have recourse to an employment tribunal.
Before reaching this point, you should make your concerns clear to your manager, and perhaps seek independent advice from your union, ACAS, or the Citizens Advice Bureau. Often, requests are turned down because the team is unsure how to work around a particular working style, and an independent voice can help all sides see how to make the arrangement work.
So, whatever you are looking to achieve from your flexible working request, by following these basic steps and taking the time to read up a little more widely – looking at your company policy and the details available from ACAS, for example – you should be well set to make your request and achieve the working pattern you desire.