A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Flexible Working

Flexible working opportunities can benefit everyone – employers, employees and their families. Most employers now recognise that it makes good business sense to provide flexible working opportunities for their staff. Find out if you have the employment law right to request a flexible working pattern.

What is flexible working?

‘Flexible working’ is a phrase that describes any working pattern adapted to suit your needs. Common types of flexible working are:

  • flexitime: choosing when to work (there’s usually a core period during which you have to work)
  • annualised hours: your hours are worked out over a year (often set shifts with you deciding when to work the other hours)
  • compressed hours: working your agreed hours over fewer days
  • staggered hours: different starting, break and finishing times for employees in the same workplace
  • job sharing: sharing a job designed for one person with someone else
  • homeworking: working from home
  • part time: working less than the normal hours, perhaps by working fewer days per week
  • zero hours: where there are no set hours of work

Who can ask for flexible working?

Anyone can ask their employer for flexible work arrangements, but employment law provides some employees with the statutory right to request a flexible working pattern.

In order to make a statutory request, you must:

  • have worked for your employer for 26 weeks’ continuously before applying
  • not have made another application to work flexibly under the right during the past 12 months

Under employment law your employer must consider your request in a reasonable manner (objectively and fairly) and can reject it on the following grounds:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • inability to re-organise work among existing staff
  • inability to recruit additional staff
  • detrimental impact on quality
  • detrimental impact on performance
  • insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
  • planned structural change

Employees who do not have the legal right to request flexible working are, of course, free to ask their employer if they can work flexibly. Many employers are willing to consider such requests.

How can I ask for flexible working?

You should make a formal request to your employer in writing. They must then consider your request and come back to you with a decision within 3 months (unless an extension has been agreed).