What is flexible working?
Flexible working is a pattern of work which is adapted to suit an employee’s needs and which can be accommodated within the employer’s business requirements. Flexible working involves three main types of change to an employee’s work pattern:
- Change to the times during which the work is carried out
- Change to the place from where the work is mainly carried out
- Change to work tools and systems e.g. use of laptop, mobile phone and communications software
Some common types of flexible working
- Part-time working – employees are contracted to work less than full time hours.
- Flexi-time – allows an employee to choose the hours he/she will work, within specified limits set by the employer. Core hours when all employees are required to be at the work are usually stipulated by the employer. The exact core period will vary depending upon the requirements of the particular job and the operational needs of the department.
- Staggered hours – employees have different start, finish and break times, allowing a business to open longer hours.
- Compressed working hours – employees can cover their standard working hours in fewer working days.
- Job Sharing – one full time job is split between two employees who agree the hours between them.
- Shift swapping – employees arrange shifts among themselves provided all required shifts are covered.
- Time off in lieu (TOIL) – employees take time off to compensate for extra hours worked.
- Annualised hours – the employees’ contracted hours are calculated over a year rather than a week.
- Voluntary reduced hours the employees agrees to reduce their hours and salary for a fixed period with a guarantee of returning to the normal hours at the end of the period - e.g., parents may wish to do this during school holidays .
- Zero-hours contracts – employees work only the hours they are needed.
- Home working/teleworking – employees spend all or part of their week working from home or somewhere else away from the employer’s premises.
- Sabbatical/career break – employees are allowed to take an extended period of unpaid time off.
Who can request flexible working?
Only certain employees have the legal right to request flexible working. These are parents, adopters or carers of children under 17 years old, or under 18 in the case of a child with disabilities. You must also have at least 26 weeks of service with your employer. However, some employers' policies allow flexible working for all employees, so before putting in a formal request you should check your employer’s own policies.
Before you start the formal process it is a good idea to think whether your employer might agree to an informal trial of flexible working. This is a good approach if you have a sudden change of circumstances.
Making your request – the formal statutory process
Eligible employees can make only one application every 12 months – even if the second request in this period is for a different caring responsibility. Therefore it is important to understand the formal process to maximise your chances of success. You should plan your application well in advance. The more time you give your employer, the more they are likely to be able to make the changes that you need to have flexible working.
Putting in a formal request
When you make a formal written request for flexible working you must ensure that:
- The request is in writing
- It is dated
- State that you are exercising your statutory right to request flexible working
- Give details of the type of flexible work you are requesting (e.g., part time) and explain how you believe that the new pattern of working will change how you and/or your team will work and how this can be managed.
Directgov has put together a set of template forms that you can access here.
There is no requirement that you must use the government forms and your employer may prefer you to use their own forms.
The process of an employer making a decision on your case
Once an employer has received a flexible working application from their employee detailing the type of flexible working they would like to request, they have a legal duty to consider the request seriously with the aim of deciding whether the business can accommodate the requested work pattern.
Employers must arrange a meeting within 28 days of receiving a valid application to discuss the proposals and give a decision within 14 days – unless the employee and employer both agree to extend the period. .
Employers may only refuse requests ‘where there is a clear business ground for doing so…. [and must give] a written explanation explaining why. The current business grounds for refusal are as follows:
- The burden of additional costs.
- A detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand.
- An inability to reorganise work among other employees.
- An inability to recruit additional employees.
- A detrimental effect on quality.
- A detrimental effect on performance.
- Insufficient work when the employee proposes to work.
- Planned structural changes
Employees have a right to appeal this decision, for example if they wish to challenge the business case for rejecting the request or to bring attention to new information. In cases where employers and employees cannot resolve the issue of refusal internally, an employee can engage a third party conciliation or mediator. Organisations such as ACAS offer a flexible working arbitration scheme.
Tips for making a good case to your employer
- It is helpful to provide your employer with as much information as possible in your application, including what the benefits to the business might be. You want to show that your plans will not harm the business and may actually improve it.
- Have a good think about what you realistically need and what you could be prepared negotiate on. Make sure you think through the implications of your flexible working request for you. For instance, if you are dropping hours, can you afford this? If you are thinking about working compressed working week, can you get childcare for the times you need to cover? Can you easily travel at early/late times?
- Talk to your colleagues. They may be able to offer solutions to your flexible working dilemma (for instance an employee may want to work later hours while you wish to take an early shift). In any case, colleagues will generally feel pleased that you are taking their feelings into consideration. It may be an opportunity for other team members to build their skills and experience by taking on aspects of your role.
- Think about what effect any changes to your work pattern will have on your job, particularly any which may be seen by your employer as an additional cost, have an impact on the quality of your work or ability to meet targets, or affect customers. Try to think of ways in which any potential issues can be resolved and offer solutions. Some jobs will have constraints in how flexible they can be, but be creative. You might feel if you have a customer facing role that you could not work from home, but you could organise your work so that you could do admin tasks or paperwork at home.
- Be positive in your language and sell your idea. Write up the proposal by stating how your changes will be beneficial to the business – for instance, if you are proposing working compressed hours make statements along the lines of “working compressed hours will allow me to make to be on call before and after standard working hours, which will allow the business to extend our customer facing time”.
For more information and help you may want to try Directgov’s interactive tool for putting together a flexible working case which can be accessed here.