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The right to request flexible working

There are many forms of flexible working. It can describe a place of work, for example homeworking, or a type of contract, such as a temporary contract. Other common variations include: part time working, flexitime, job sharing and shift work.

Key points

  • Requests should be in writing stating the date of the request and whether any previous application has been made and the date of that application.
  • Requests and appeals must be considered and decided upon within three months of the receipt of the request.
  • Employers must have a sound business reason for rejecting any request.
  • Employees can only make one request in any 12 month period.

Making a request

Although employees with less than 26 weeks service do not have a statutory right to request flexible working, some employers may allow all staff to make a request.

To make a request for flexible working employees must:

  • make their request in writing, state the date the request is made, the change to working conditions they are seeking, and the date they would like the change to take effect 
  • state whether they have made a previous application for flexible work and the date of that application 
  • what change to working conditions they are seeking and how they think this may affect the business e.g. cost saving to the business 
  • if they are making their request in relation to the Equality Act 2010, for example, as a reasonable adjustment for disabled employee.

Handling requests to work flexibly 

Once a request has been received, the employer should arrange a meeting to discuss the request, this should be done as soon as possible, this is not a statutory requirement but is good practice.

This meeting can provide an opportunity to see what changes the employee is asking for and reasons for the change, although the employee may not wish to say why it also allows any compromise to be explored. Although not a statutory requirement, it would be good practice to allow the employee to be accompanied at a meeting by a work colleague or trade union representative.

The law requires the process to be completed within three months of the request being received, this includes any appeals.

Any request that is accepted will make a permanent change to the employment contract, so if the employee wants a temporary change then an agreement may be reached together with any comprise if the original request can not be accommodated.

However, if the employer is willing to grant a request then meeting may not be necessary, but it still may be useful to discuss a request to ensure that the proposal made by the employee is the best solution for both employer and employee.

Employers should considered requests in a reasonable manner and can only refuse them if there is a business reasons for doing so, this reason must be from the following list:

  • the burden of additional costs 
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff 
  • an inability to recruit additional staff 
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance 
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand 
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work 
  • a planned structural changes to the business.

Resolving a dispute

Wherever possible it is better to reach agreement on flexible working within the workplace. However, if the application is refused at the appeal stage you can:

  • have an informal discussion - there may be some simple misunderstanding which can be resolved in an informal way 
  • use the employer's internal grievance procedure 
  • seek assistance from a third party such as a trade union representative 
  • seek assistance from Acas through the conciliation process.

Where agreement cannot be reached you may wish to consider:

There is no longer a requirement to pay a fee to make a claim to the Employment Tribunal or the Employment Appeals Tribunal. This was confirmed on July 26th 2017 by the Supreme Court which declared unlawful the Employment Tribunals and Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013.

Anyone who has previously paid fees to the Employment Tribunals or Employment Appeals Tribunal is entitled to be reimbursed by the government. Information on reimbursement should become available at GOV.UK - Employment Tribunal.

Working from home

The Acas homeworking guidance offers employers and employees advice on how to:

  • identify when homeworking can be beneficial
  • decide whether the job and post holder are suitable for homeworking
  • deal with the practicalities of setting up a homeworker
  • manage homeworkers as part of a flexible workforce.

See our homeworking guidance or download the Acas pdf icon Homeworking - a guide for employers and employees [272kb].

Acas Code of Practice and guide

Acas has produced a Code of Practice together with a non statutory guide on handling requests in a reasonable manner to work flexibly. The Code offers a process to follow when making and considering flexible working requests and includes both legal and good practice requirements.

Will flexible forms of working provide the answer to work-life balance?

Acas' former Head of Equality, Steve Williams, discusses this in the Workplace trends of 2015 report by Acas, the CIPD and

Right to request flexible working video

Former Head of Equality at Acas, Steve Williams, explains how employers should consider the right to request flexible working. SME company directors Sam Willoughby, Nicky Chisholm and Jon Mackie talk about the benefits of flexible working and how they manage flexible working within their respective businesses.

Acas training for employers on flexible working

Acas has launched a training course to help employers understand the changes to flexible working legislation, the Acas Code of Practice and the accompanying good practice guidance.

View all Acas training event dates and locations for Flexible working.

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