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Don't make assumptions when considering flexible working requests, new Acas guide warns

Employers are being warned not to make assumptions about the needs and circumstances of employees who make flexible working requests. This is because of the risk of sex discrimination.

New guidance from Acas, pdf icon Sex discrimination: key points for the workplace [472kb], says that it's important to consider each request on its own merits in relation to the needs of the business and handle requests consistently, not only to comply with flexible working regulations, but to avoid the risk of sex discrimination.

For example, an employer should not assume a male employee is less likely to want flexibility for child care responsibilities outside of work.

Also, if employers assume that requests from men are easier to turn down, or prioritise requests from women, they could be at risk of being taken to an employment tribunal with sex discrimination claims.

Indirect sex discrimination

However, an employer should be mindful that working hours or patterns which clash with an employee's child care responsibilities are more likely to affect women.  So, employers who ask that their employees stay late at least once a week could be indirectly discriminating against female employees.

If an employer believes there is a genuine business need for all employees to work late at least once a week, it would have to be able to justify the rule as what the law terms 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'. An employer would also have to look at and introduce a way or ways to reduce or remove the discriminatory effect - for example, by providing child care support.

Employees who have worked for their employer continuously for 26 weeks have the right to ask to work flexibly. That might amount to reduced hours, changing their working hours, working from home or working as part of a job share.

If an organisation can accommodate the request an employer must accept it. But employers can turn down a request on business grounds defined in flexible working regulations.

Acas publications and services

The Acas publication pdf icon Sex discrimination: key points for the workplace [472kb] explains how Sex discrimination can occur in the workplace, how it can be dealt with and how to reduce the chance of future discrimination.

More information on flexible working can be found in the Acas publication pdf icon The right to request flexible working: an Acas guide [186kb].

The guide pdf icon Asking and responding to questions of discrimination in the workplace [164kb] aims to help employers and managers establish the facts, resolve concerns and avoid disputes if employees feel they have been treated unfavourably at work because of a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Acas experts can visit your organisation and help managers, employees and employee representatives with issues related to bullying, harassment and discrimination, as well as help with the organisation's equality and diversity policy. See Equality and diversity: how Acas can help for more details.

Practical training is also available on Discrimination, Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010, Flexible working, and Skills for supervisors.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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We recommend that you explore further information and advice available on this website, particularly within our Advice A-Z guidance pages. If you have questions about workplace rights and rules visit Helpline Online.
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