Flexible working FAQs


Flexible working14 FAQs about flexible working

  1. Which employees are allowed to ask for flexible working?
  2. Are any workers excluded from the right to ask for flexible working?
  3. Do parents and carers have special rights to ask for flexible working?
  4. What kinds of flexible working can employees ask for?
  5. Is there a particular procedure to follow when considering flexible working requests?
  6. Do I have to allow employees to work flexibly?
  7. Can we let some employees work flexibly but not others?
  8. How does an employee make a request for flexible working?
  9. How many requests for flexible working or changes to working arrangements can an employee make?
  10. An employee made a request for flexible working three months ago which we approved, but she has changed her mind and wants to alter her hours again. Is she allowed to do this?
  11. An employee has made a request to reduce her hours, but she has already taken all her 'full-time' holiday for the current year. Can we deduct the extra holiday she has taken from her wages, or reduce her holiday allowance for next year?
  12. What should I do if I don't want to agree to a request?
  13. What happens if I decide not to allow a request for flexible working?
  14. What are the advantages of allowing flexible working?

1. Which employees are allowed to ask for flexible working?

Almost all employees with 26 weeks' continuous service are entitled to request flexible working. This includes both full-time and part-time employees.

If an employee has already made a request, they are not entitled to make another request until 12 months later.

The right to ask for flexible working does not apply to employees with 'employee shareholder status' who have agreed to give up some of their employment rights in return for free shares in the business (except in the 2 weeks after returning from parental leave).

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2. Are any workers excluded from the right to ask for flexible working?

Only employees have the right to request flexible working. So self-employed contractors, agency workers, consultants, and company directors who do not have an employment contract are all excluded.

Employees who have 'employee shareholder status' are also excluded (except in the 2 weeks after returning from parental leave). They have agreed to give up some of their employment rights - including the right to ask for flexible working - in return for free shares in the business. 

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3. Do parents and carers have special rights to ask for flexible working?

Yes, almost all employees with at least 26 weeks' service have the statutory right to ask for flexible working.

If an employee has worked for you for at least a year and has children, they may also be entitled to unpaid parental leave. This applies to parents who have a child under the age of five or a disabled child under the age of 18. It also applies to parents who have adopted a child within the last five years while the child remains under the age of 18. For each qualifying child, the parent can take up to four weeks leave in a year subject to an overall maximum of 18 weeks.

All employees are entitled to unpaid time off to deal with emergencies involving a family member (such as a child) or a dependant.

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4. What kinds of flexible working can employees ask for?

Employees can ask for changes to their working hours, the time they work or their work location.

For example, an employee might ask to reduce their hours with part-time working or a job share. They might want more flexibility over when they work with some kind of flexitime. Or they might want to work from home for some or all of the time.

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5. Is there a particular procedure to follow when considering flexible working requests?

You are required to consider the request in a 'reasonable manner' rather than following a specified procedure. You must reach your decision within three months (unless the employee agrees to extend the deadline).

Acas publishes a code of practice on handling flexible working requests. Although you are not required to follow the code of practice, it is taken into account if an employee complains to an employment tribunal. The code of practice includes:

  • Arranging to discuss the request with the employee as soon as possible.
  • Allowing the employee to be accompanied by a work colleague if they want.
  • Weighing the benefits of the proposed change against any adverse business impact.
  • Only rejecting requests for a permitted business reason (see 6).
  • Letting the employee know your decision as soon as possible.
  • Allowing the employee a right of appeal.

Acas also publishes a guide to good practice. For more information visit the Acas website or call 08457 47 47 47.

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6. Do I have to allow employees to work flexibly?

No, but you must consider the request in a reasonable manner (see 5). You can only refuse a request for one of the business reasons specified in the legislation:

  • Unacceptable additional costs.
  • An inability to reorganise work among existing staff.
  • An inability to recruit additional staff.
  • A detrimental impact on quality.
  • A detrimental impact on the ability to meet customer demand.
  • A detrimental impact on the performance of the employee, the team or the whole business.
  • Insufficient work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
  • Planned structural changes that the proposed changes would not fit with.

It is clear, following a recent Employment Tribunal ruling, that it is not unreasonable for you to put your business’s own interests above those of an employee when considering a flexible working request.

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7. Can we let some employees work flexibly but not others?

You should consider each request for flexible working independently, on its own merits. This may mean that you allow some requests (where the benefits outweigh the disadvantages) but refuse others (where you have a good business reason for doing so).

If several employees request flexible working at the same time, you may have a good business reason not to allow all the requests: for example, if there would not be enough employees covering a busy period. In these circumstances, you might want to discuss the problem with the employees to see if a different arrangement might work better.

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8. How does an employee make a request for flexible working?

To make a request under the flexible working legislation, the request must be made in writing and must include:

  • Details of the change they are asking for.
  • What effect they think the change would have on the business and how it could be dealt with.
  • The date the request is made and the date they would like the change to start.
  • A statement that this is a statutory request for flexible working, whether they have made a request previously and, if so, its date.

As the employer, you should provide your employees with guidance on what information needs to be included in any request.

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9. How many requests for flexible working or changes to working arrangements can an employee make?

Once an employee has made a request for flexible working, they are not entitled to make another request until 12 months later. There is nothing to stop an employee from asking for flexible work, every 12 months, indefinitely.

An employee can make other 'non-statutory' requests for flexible working, but these will not be covered by the legislation. You can simply reject these non-statutory requests if you want, unless there is some other legal reason why you need to consider them (for example, as part of making 'reasonable adjustments' for a disabled employee).

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10. An employee made a request for flexible working three months ago which we approved, but she has changed her mind and wants to alter her hours again. Is she allowed to do this?

The rules only give her the right to make one request every 12 months. Of course, you can choose to allow her to change her hours again if you want to.

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11. An employee has made a request to reduce her hours, but she has already taken all her 'full-time' holiday for the current year. Can we deduct the extra holiday she has taken from her wages, or reduce her holiday allowance for next year?

Unless her employment contract already allows for this, you will need the employee's agreement before making any deductions from wages or reducing the following year's holiday allowance.

You might want to discuss this with the employee. If the employee is not prepared to agree and this imposes unacceptable additional costs on the business, you could refuse the request.

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12. What should I do if I don't want to agree to a request?

You should arrange to discuss the request with the employee as soon as possible. You may be able to agree changes to what the employee is requesting that suit your business better. If you are still unsure whether you want to agree to the request, you might suggest making the changes on a temporary or trial basis.

If you want to reject the request, it must be for one of the business reasons allowed by the legislation (see 6).

Bear in mind that sometimes refusing a request for flexible working could be unlawful discrimination - even if you have a good reason. For example, you must make 'reasonable adjustments' to ensure disabled employees aren't unfairly disadvantaged. This might include allowing a disabled employee to work flexibly.

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13. What happens if I decide not to allow a request for flexible working?

The employee carries on working as normal, under their existing contract. You must not discriminate against the employee just for exercising their right to request flexible working.

The employee will have the right to ask for flexible working again after 12 months.

If the employee feels that you have not followed a fair procedure, or if you fail to make a decision within three months, they may make a claim to an employment tribunal. This can include a claim of discrimination if your refusal amounts to direct or indirect discrimination.

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14. What are the advantages of allowing flexible working?

Flexible working can help you attract employees, improve motivation and reduce staff turnover. Flexible working can also directly boost employee productivity. For example, a more flexible work pattern may allow employees to choose to work at the times when they are most productive

Allowing flexible working can reduce absenteeism and sick leave. Employees with flexible working tend to suffer less from stress. They can also deal with quick personal priorities (such as visiting the dentist or handling a sudden emergency) without feeling that their only option is to call in sick.

Flexible working may also reduce your costs. For example, your business might be able to work from a smaller office if a significant number of employees work from home. Employees' own costs will also be reduced if they do not have to travel to and from work.

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