Flexible Working in Employment

What is flexible working?

Flexible working means making changes in the hours and times when an employee is contractually obliged to work.  This can take several different forms, the most common of which include part-time working, flexi-time, job sharing and working from home.  Many employers now recognise the value of allowing their staff to have some flexibility regarding their hours of work, and an employer and employee are free to decide between themselves the conditions of employment, as long as they remain within the law.  Some people, however, have a statutory right to ask their employer for flexible working arrangements.

Who can ask for flexible working?

The short answer here is anyone.  You can simply approach your employer and ask them if you can change your work schedule.  But your employer is free to reject outright any requests you make, and need not give any reasons for doing so.  If, however, you meet the qualifying conditions under Part 8A of the Employment Rights Act 1996, your employer is legally bound to consider your application for flexible working arrangements.  The important point to note here is that an employer has a duty to consider your request, but they are under no duty to grant your request.

Who is entitled to request flexible working?

Employees must meet certain qualifying conditions before they have a right to request flexible working conditions.  The conditions are

  • You must be an employee, not an agency worker or in the armed forces
  • You must have worked at least 26 consecutive weeks for your employer before requesting flexible working
  • You must not have previously applied under the statutory right within the last 12 months

If you meet these three conditions then you have the statutory right to ask for flexible working arrangements if:

  • You have or will have parental responsibility for a child under 16 or a disabled child under 18 who receives Disability Living Allowance
  • You are the parent, legal guardian or foster carer of the child, or the spouse, partner or civil partner of one of these, and you are applying to care for the child
  • You are a carer caring, or you expect to be caring, for an adult who is your spouse, partner, civil partner or relative, or someone who is unrelated to you but lives at the same address as you 

You may then ask your employer to consider your request for flexible working hours.  Your employer must seriously consider your request and may only reject it if there are strong business reasons for doing so.  Remember, you have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements, not the right to receive them.  Your employer can refuse your request on certain statutory grounds, such as if they feel there would be a burden of additional costs, or the ability to meet consumer demand would be affected, or if it is not possible to reorganise work among remaining staff.

Applying for flexible working 

If you have the statutory right to request flexible working then you must follow a specific process.  This process can take up to 14 weeks, so if you think you may need to adjust your work schedule it is important to start your application as soon as possible.  Another important consideration is that if you do change your usual hours of work then your contract of employment will also change.  A reduction in the number of hours you work will lead to a corresponding deduction in the amount you are paid. 

Other options

Some other rights exist which allow you to take time off work to care for another person.  These include parental leave and taking time off for dependents.  Both options are generally unpaid.  Parental leave allows you to take time off to look after your child or to make welfare arrangements for them.  Time off for dependants, sometimes referred to as compassionate leave, allows you to take time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, such as your spouse or child.  Again, certain criteria apply, but your employer is generally obliged to allow you time off if the criteria are met.  It is always advisable to talk to your employer about any leave you may need.  If you are a member of a trade union, then the union representatives may also be able to advise you.