How to make a flexible working request

Want to work flexibly but don’t know how to formally request it?  Katy Meves from Springhouse Solicitors explains how the process works.

Estimates suggest that women with dependants are three and a half times more likely to work part-time than men with dependants. This in turn leads to a gap in average pay between men and women (the gender pay gap), as part-time jobs tend to be more junior or lower paid roles and workers commonly sacrifice career progression when they go part-time.

But flexible working doesn’t just mean part-time work. There’s an almost inexhaustible array of arrangements which might be described as ‘flexible’, including:

  • Job sharing.
  • Working from home.
  • Compressed hours.
  • Term-time working.

You have a legal right to request flexible working

The right to request flexible working (as opposed to the right to be given it) was first introduced in 2002 and originally covered only people who had caring responsibilities for children or others. However, in June 2014 the right was extended to all employees, regardless of the reason why someone wanted to work flexibly.

Under the current legislation, an employee can make a request to their employer for a permanent change to their terms and conditions relating to their working hours, times or location.

Flexible working isn’t a term of art, and has no special legal meaning. But it’s commonly associated with an improved work-life balance. It also has benefits for an employer, as a workplace which truly embraces flexible working for everyone has been found to lead to greater job satisfaction, improved loyalty and is recruitment positive.

However, men can face stigma in the workplace if they request flexible arrangements, as they are traditionally regarded as providers rather than carers.

Anecdotally, men who make flexible working requests are more likely to be turned down than women but, pressure is slowly mounting on employers to increase flexible working options for all staff, and the Government has pledged to set up a task force in 2019 to review how flexible working is working in practice. For now, here are some pointers for making your request.

Check your employer’s flexible working policy

Check your employer’s staff handbook or intranet to see if it has its own flexible working policy. If so, this should set out what you have to do to make a request; follow this to the letter.  For example, meeting any stated timescale, providing all the information requested and sending to the right person/department. And make sure your employer follows it’s own policy too!

Make sure your request is in writing

Don’t worry if your employer doesn’t have its own flexible working policy – the law lays down a framework which you should follow.

A formal flexible working request can be made by any employee (regardless of whether they have children or need to care for an elderly relative) BUT only once they have been employed for 26 weeks. Requests to work flexibly must be in writing, be dated and state the date of any previous request to your employer.

Less is not more: include all the detail

Although it is likely that your employer will invite you to a meeting to discuss your application in more detail, it can be really useful to put as much information into your request as possible so that everything is recorded and your employer can have a chance to consider it in depth.

So your application should include the following information:

  • What change your are requesting, for example different hours, part-time days, home working etc.
  • When you want this to take effect.
  • Why you personally want or need the change and the effect it will have on your work.
  • How you think this will affect the business. This may be a positive affect such as increased efficiency or money saving. If you think the change may have a negative effect then try and come up with ideas to mitigate this.  If you think the change will be neutral then say so.
  • Whether the request is in relation to the Equality Act 210, for example it is a reasonable adjustment for a disabled employee.

You only get ‘one bite of the cherry’ every 12 months

You can only make one request every 12 months. So it pays to take a bit of time over your request, do your homework and get it right – otherwise you will be waiting a while before you can ask again.

Remember it’s a permanent change

Unless you agree on a time limited change (and most employers will probably be reluctant to do so) remember that what you are actually asking for when you make a flexible working request is a permanent change to your terms and conditions – so you won’t be able to revert to your current terms at a later date.

Stand in your employer’s shoes

An employer can only turn down a request to work flexibly on eight grounds which are laid down by law. These are:

  • The burden of additional costs.
  • Inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff.
  • Inability to recruit additional staff.
  • Detrimental impact on quality.
  • Detrimental impact on performance.
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.
  • Insufficient work for periods employee proposes to work.
  • Planned structural changes to the business.

It’s not acceptable for the employer to say it has a policy that ‘everyone at a certain level’ must work full-time or that it simply ‘wants everyone in the office’ or that ‘it has enough people working flexibly’.

Some employers or particular managers may be prejudiced against the idea of flexible working but, this is not a legitimate reason to turn down your request.

So try and anticipate what your employer may find problematic about your request and come up with some solutions to try and overcome their concerns. If your employer is nervous, be prepared to have a trial period to show it can work in practice.

Keep an eye on the clock

An employer must decide upon any request within three months of receipt, and this time limit includes hearing any appeal. So keep an eye on the calendar and chase up your application. And remind your employer about the timescale if you haven’t heard anything.

Remember discrimination law also applies

Quite apart from the statutory right to make a flexible working request, equality law may also be relevant to your own particular circumstances.

The protected characteristics of sex, age and disability are likely to be the most relevant but, it will all depend on why you are making your request and who else, within your organisation, is able to work flexibly.

Employers need to be aware that even if they turn down a flexible working request on one of the permitted grounds, this does not excuse them from the provisions of the Equality Act which may still render their refusal of your request unlawful discrimination (either indirect or direct).

We may see changes to the law in future

In October 2017 the Prime Minister made a speech about closing the gender pay gap in which she called for companies to advertise all jobs as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons not to. So, it is possible we may see some changes to the legislation along these lines in the future, following the review of flexible working due on 2019.

Need more legal employment advice?

You’ll find more advice on your rights as an employee in these articles:

Katy Meves is a Partner at Springhouse Solicitors, a niche employment law firm.

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