Right to flexible working

Flexible working encompasses a wide variety of working patterns, including compressed hours, flexi-time, home working, job-sharing, staggered hours and term-time working.

It benefits employers and employees alike. Employers can retain skilled staff and reduce recruitment costs; employees are able to strike a better balance between their home and work responsibilities.

While some employees already have a legal right to request flexible working and their employers have a duty to consider the requests seriously, many employers are also willing to consider requests on an informal basis from any of their employees. They may even have an established formal procedure for employer and employee to follow.

Anyone thinking about changing to a flexible working pattern should speak to his or her employer as early as possible in order to explore what opportunities might be available.

Legal right to request flexible working for parents of disabled children

In April 2003 the right to request was introduced for parents of children under six (or under 18 for a disabled child). It is not an absolute right to work flexibly, but does require employers to consider requests seriously. It is important to bear in mind that if an employer accepts a request, then this results in a permanent change to the employee’s contract of employment.

The right to request for parents proved a great success with 47% of new mothers working flexi-time in 2007, compared to 17% in 2002 and almost triple the number of new fathers.

Legal right to request flexible working for employees caring for adults - Work and Families Act 2006

Building on this, the scope of the law was extended from April 2007 to include employees who care for, or expect to care for, adults.

A carer is defined as an employee who is, or expects to be, caring for an adult who is married to, or the partner or civil partner of the employee; or is a near relative of the employee; or falls into neither of those categories, but lives at the same address as the employee.

How do I make a request for flexible working under the law?

There is a formal procedure for employees and employers to follow, which details the rights and responsibilities of both parties.

The employee starts the process by providing his or her employer with a carefully thought-out application, in advance of when they would like the desired working pattern to take effect. The employer then follows a set procedure designed to ensure that the request is considered seriously and that a discussion takes place.

An employer may refuse a request only where there is a recognised business reason for doing so.

Further sources of information and advice

The following links provide access to straightforward forms and letter templates, along with guidance for both employees and employers to use throughout this process.

Information for employees

Information for employers

Acas has launched a series of e-learning packages for employers, as well as providing comprehensive guidance.

Acas also run a free confidential helpline for employers and employees on all aspects of employment law:

08457 474747 (Mon to Fri 8am-6pm)

Carers UK also provides guidance and information covering flexible working issues

Information for employment advisors and intermediaries:

Detailed information on the Work and Families Act, including background documents, can be found on the DTI’s Work and Families web pages.

The amended regulations can be found under SI No. 2006/3314 on the OPSI website

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