Juggling nursery and school pick-ups with getting into the office for 9am can be tough. Working until 6pm followed by a long commute home doesn’t always leave enough space for family time. That is why lots of mums contact me about changing to flexible working. Here’s my guide to making a request:
Flexible working can take a number of different forms; it doesn’t just mean working part time although that might form part of your request. It might include:
- Flexi-time – working ‘core times’ but having flexibility about what hours you work outside of that period.
- Job-sharing – where two employees share the work normally done by one employee.
- Working from home – new technology means this can often now be possible.
- Term time working – a contract could provide for paid or unpaid leave during the school holidays.
- Staggered hours – employees in the same workplace might have different start and finish times.
- Annual hours – working a certain number of hours each year rather than a set pattern.
- Part time working – this could be working fewer days or coming in late / finishing early.
The law in relation to flexible working is set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Flexible Working Regulations 2014.
You can apply for flexible working provided that you have at least 26 weeks continuous service. You can only make one application to the same employer in a 12-month period so you should choose a good time to make the request. The application should be in writing and contain the following information:
- The date of the current application;
- The date of any previous application or confirmation that there has been none;
- A statement that the application is being made under the statutory right to request flexible working;
- The flexible working pattern applied for and the date it should come into effect;
- An explanation of what effect, if any, you think the proposed change will have on your employer and suggestions as to how the effect may be dealt with.
You are not expected to know exactly what the effect on the employer may be, you just have to show that you have considered the likely impact of the proposed change.
Your employer should deal with your application ‘in a reasonable manner’ and notify you of their decision within 3 months of the application or any permitted appeal unless a longer period is agreed.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) recommends that employers take these steps: (1) Your employer should discuss the request with you, consider the application carefully and inform you of their decision as soon as possible. (2) Inform you of their decision in writing. (3) If the request is rejected your employer should allow you to appeal.
Your employer can only refuse the application on one of the specified grounds, including:
- Additional costs;
- Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
- Inability to recruit additional staff or re-organise work amongst existing staff;
- Detrimental impact on quality or performance;
- Insufficient work during the periods the employee proposes to work;
- Planned structural changes.
As long as your employer’s refusal falls within one of these specified grounds and is not based on incorrect facts then you cannot challenge the refusal under the flexible working procedure. As the grounds are very broad your best chance of success will be to persuade your employer to agree to the request in the first place.
If your request is turned down don’t forget to appeal! It is also important to consider whether you might have other rights under your contract of employment or under discrimination law. For example, it may be indirect sex discrimination if your employer unjustifiably refuses your request to change your hours for childcare reasons.
Tips for negotiating
- Remind your employer of your skills and experience – persuade them that you are a valuable member of the work force that they don’t want to lose.
- Explain that work/life balance is important to you. If your request is granted you will be a highly motivated and loyal employee when you are working!
- Aim high – if you don’t ask, you don’t get! But be realistic and make sure your request is backed up by clear argument.
- You might need to compromise – your employer might agree to some of the request but not all of it (for example, reducing your number of days but not a request to work from home). Think about what your bottom line is and what you might be willing to agree to.
- If your employer seems uncertain about granting your request, you could suggest a trial period. This will give both of you the opportunity to check that it works well and iron out any concerns.
- If there are other people in your organisation that work flexibly successfully then point this out to your employer and use them as examples of how the arrangements could work.
- If you are asking to work from home explain how technology such as skype or facetime means that you can still actively participate in office life.