Flexible working

At a time when most parents are working parents and employees of all descriptions are striving to achieve an acceptable work life balance, the opportunity to work flexibly is seen by many employees as the most valuable benefit of all.

The term flexible working refers to a range of working arrangements which give employees some choice as to when, how and where they work, as opposed to a rigid nine to five regime based at the employer’s premises. Flexible working can include:

  • Part-time working
  • Home working or teleworking
  • Job sharing
  • Term time working
  • Flexitime
  • Career breaks (sometimes called sabbaticals)

along with many other variations on the traditional working pattern.

For the employer, flexible working can result in improved employee retention, lower levels of absenteeism and increased motivation. However, the introduction of such arrangements does require careful planning. Employers should consider which arrangements will suit their particular business and identify any additional costs. There is a balance to be struck between the needs of employees and the need for the business to remain efficient and properly staffed.

Employees with six months service or more, who have children under six (or 18 if the child is disabled), have the right to request flexible working. There is no automatic right to work flexibly but employers do have a statutory duty to give serious consideration to their applications, which can only be refused on specific grounds.

An eligible employee may request a change to his/her:

  • Hours of work
  • Times of work
  • Place of work (to either another of the employer’s workplaces or the employee’s home).

Applications must be made in writing, no later than two weeks before the child’s 6th birthday (or 18th birthday if the child is disabled). The application must contain specified information, which will assist the employer to make a decision. For an application form which covers this requirement, please see Flexible Working Application Form.

Employees may make only one application per year.

If you can agree to the arrangement requested by your employee without the need for any discussion, you should issue an amended contract of employment, which includes any new terms and conditions and their effective date. Make sure that your employee understands that any contractual changes are permanent and that there is no automatic right to revert to the original contract if circumstances change.

If you are unable to agree to the request straight away, you must arrange to meet with your employee within 28 days of the written request. Your employee is entitled to be accompanied at this meeting by a fellow employee. If the accompanying employee is not available at the time when the meeting is scheduled, postpone it and arrange an alternative time, within seven days of the original meeting. Make sure, however, that you keep within the 28 day time limit.

Use the meeting constructively to discuss the request in detail. Consider the impact any new arrangement will have on the workload of others and the efficiency of the business. If there are likely to be problems, consider alternative solutions. There may be a compromise arrangement which will suit both parties. Be careful not to discriminate, for example by only agreeing to requests made by female employees.

Within 14 days of the meeting you should either:

  • Confirm in writing the new working arrangements and their effective date, making it clear that any agreed contractual changes are permanent. For a suitable form to use for this purpose, please see, Flexible Working Application Acceptance Form. You may also wish to issue an amended contract of employment for your employee to sign.


  • Write to the employee, giving the grounds for refusing the request and the reason(s) why they apply in the circumstances.

There are only eight grounds on which a request can be refused:

  • The burden of additional costs
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • Inability to reorganise 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 is proposing to work
  • Planned structural change.

An employee’s appeal must be made in writing within 14 days of the decision to refuse the request.

The person dealing with the appeal must meet with the employee within 14 days of the receipt of the letter of appeal. The employee has the right to be accompanied at the appeal hearing by a fellow employee. Within 14 days of the appeal hearing, the employee must be informed in writing of the outcome. The person who heard the appeal should confirm either:

  • The new working arrangements and their effective date.


  • The grounds for refusing the appeal and the reason(s) why they apply in the circumstances.

Types of flexible working

Employers who are considering flexible working arrangements have a very wide range of options from which to choose. Some of the most common are:

  • Part-time working
  • Home working and teleworking
  • Job sharing
  • Term time working
  • Flexitime
  • Career breaks (sabbaticals)