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Requesting flexible work - how do I do it?

A basic guide to asking your employer to change to a flexible working pattern *

The 'Right to Request' flexible work is established in UK law.  It applies to parents of children aged 17 or under, parents of children up to 18 with disabilities, and to carers of adult family members. 

But the right to request is just what it says.  It's a right to ask for flexible work, not a right to get it.  So employees want to know how to make a request, and how to frame the request in the best way to get the result they want.

So this is out advice as to how go about making a successful request.

  1. Talk informally with your manager and/or HR department first about your need for a change of work style. You can see what flexible working options are already practised in the organisation, and run some ideas past them to gauge their response.

  2. Do some research.  Make sure you know the company's policies on flexible working, if they have any.  And try to find out if there are examples of your kind of work being done on a flexible work basis in other companies.  This will help you to make a persuasive case if your manager is unsure or resistant.

  3. If possible, get an agreement without making a formal request under the legislation.  This is very common, and saves plunging in to the rather bureaucratic and time-consuming process of a formal request.

  4. If you need to make a formal request, this must be in writing - by email or letter, or using an application form.  One is available from the Department for Business website - www.bis.gov.uk

  5. You should state that you are making the request under the statutory right to request flexible working, and make sure the letter is dated, as this will mark the beginning point of the process.  The employer is given 28 days to respond - either making a decision or arranging a meeting to discuss the request.

  6. You should state how you qualify under the legislation; that is, state the nature of your caring responsibilities.  You do not have to provide evidence of this caring relationship, or demonstrate that someone else could not provide this care.

  7. You should propose a new working pattern

  8. You should put forward a case for this new working pattern, showing how your work can successfully be carried out in this way, and that it will not harm the business, or how it may have business advantages.

  9. You should also say if you have made a previous application, and when.  You cannot make more than one application in 12 months.

There is a requirement in the legislation for the individual to make a business case for the change to the working pattern, which is perhaps the most daunting part of the application process.  This is where your research can pay off, showing how other people or other organisations are able to work successfully in the way you request.

Your employer may choose to refuse the request, but must not do so unreasonably.  Incurring extra costs, putting extra burdens on colleagues or reducing productivity may be reasons for refusal. Just saying 'No, I don't like this' or 'We don't do that' are not sufficient reasons.

The employer also needs to be sure that he can demonstrate that his reasons are valid, in the event that you take the case to a tribunal.  So the grounds for refusal must be reasonable and valid.

An employer may choose to discuss your proposal, to be sure how it will work in practice.  It is possible they may suggest some kind of compromise, or alternative pattern, or a trial period.

Unless you agree to a trial period, the changes made will be a permanent arrangement.

If it all goes wrong ...

There are two main ways that may lead to an escalation of the process - if the request is not handled correctly by the employer (typically by delay), or if the request is refused.

There are 3 potential ways of dealing with this:

  1. Further negotiations in-house, perhaps involving employee representatives/trade unions

  2. Referral, if both sides agree, to the ACAS flexible working arbitration process

  3. An appeal to an employment tribunal.

It is the latter two options that put the pressure on employers to ensure that their case for refusal is reasonable, factually accurate and not arbitrary.  In principle, you cannot directly contest the business grounds given, but you can contest the facts on which the business case is based.

The process can get expensive once lawyers become involved, so once should not enter into an appeal lightly.  Also, the sanctions against employers are quite weak under this legislation.

Lawyers may well recommend also appealing on the grounds of the anti-discrimination legislation, e.g. sex, disability or age discrimination. The sanctions here are much tougher, and levels of compensation potentially higher.

But hopefully your request can be resolved satisfactorily before reaching this stage!.

* The guidance presented here is provided as a general and educational outline.  It is not intended as legal advice, and should not be taken or used as such, or be used as the basis for business or employment decisions, for which readers should rely on their own sources of legal and professional advice.



April 2009


We are often asked about how to apply for flexible working, or to help out in cases that where a request has been denied.

Here we provide a basic guide for employees into how to make a request for flexible working under the UK legislation.

For employers, we also have a guide on how to be prepared to handle requests.






All material copyright Flexibility.co.uk 2009