How to apply for flexible working

Thursday 27 August 2020
The key thing: show how it benefits your employer as well as you...

The Covid-19 crisis has seen many of us having to be increasingly flexible to balance multiple commitments such as childcare, remote learning and changes in routine. Thankfully, many workplaces embraced it.

For many others, this hasn’t been the case. Perhaps you work in a more rigid structure where you’re expected to clock in and out at fixed times; or you have to work the allocated hours of your boss; or you’re now being phased back into the workplace post-lockdown.

There are many reasons why organisations are reluctant to offer or provide flexible working, often centring around fears for reductions in productivity.

In reality, flexible working – as thousands of employers have discovered during the pandemic – can offer all sorts of benefits to both employee and employer.

The key thing is to make sure that flexible working is implemented in a thorough and systematic way. Lay the necessary groundwork, and you’ll see changes that can work well for all parties. (CMI members should look at Checklist 026 in ManagementDirect, which is an introduction to implementing flexible working hours.)

For many, the fear of asking for flexible working practices can put them off applying – but to help you on the way, we’ve created a simple starter guide to help you through the process. Using advice from Gov UKCitizens Advice and ACAS, here are some helpful tips on how you can make a formal application for flexible working – perhaps in a workplace where this isn’t the norm. We do recommend reading all the advice available to you.

Your flexible working rights

Written into UK legislation, if you have a reason for requesting flexible hours, as of August 2023 you can file a statutory request from your first day of employment, which your employer should handle in a reasonable manner.

What changes are you requesting?

Think about and define clearly the change you’d like to your working practices. There are many aspects of flexible working, so it’s a good idea to have thought about the specifics before talking to your manager.

Consider, for example, the following types of flexible working, outlined on the GOV UK site:

  • Job-sharing or altering your working day to compressed hours – where you work the same amount of hours, but over fewer days – could allow you to complete your work commitments alongside family and home commitments.
  • If your organisation is beginning to go back into work, but you feel unsafe doing so, can you continue to do the majority of your work from home? Requesting remote working may be right for you, or requesting staggered hours so you’re surrounded by fewer people but are still going into work.
  • Are you homeschooling, volunteering, or caring for family members? Flexitime could enable you to work core hours while keeping more time free for these other responsibilities.

Citizens Advice has created a useful list of questions to ask yourself when considering the changes you’d like to make to your contract...

Do you need a statutory application?

If the change you’re requesting is minor (ie, changing your start and finishing times) or temporary, then you may not need to make a statutory application. This means you can approach your manager more informally to discuss a solution that works for you and your team. Remind them that the changes you’re suggesting will enable you to perform better in your job, and that the benefits of flexible working are far-reaching.

A statutory application is usually for those changes that will involve amending your contract with permanent, big changes, or for a change to your working practice which is defined in The Equality Act 2010. This is a more formal application (which you may need to file using an employer-specific form or process) – but a discussion with your manager beforehand should help you decide which route to follow. There are, of course, pros and cons for both routes: you can find out more about these here.

What to include in your request

There are a few details that must be included in your request. Unless your employer specifies a form to use, write a letter or email stating the following:

  • The date
  • An opening sentence stating that this is a statutory request
  • Details of how you want to work flexibly (ie, what changes you are asking for) and when you want these changes to be in place
  • Whether you are requesting a change that relates to The Equality Act 2010 – ie, these changes are to make your working practices reasonable for any disability you have
  • A statement saying if and when you’ve made a previous application
  • An explanation of how you believe these changes may affect the business and how this could be dealt with – eg, if you want to have flexible hours, you will need to communicate with all team members and external liaisons so they know when they are able to contact you, so a solution could be that you have an out of office auto-response on at all times you’re not working (Note: as of August 2023, under the Flexible Working Bill, it is no longer necessary to explain this.)

What to expect next

If you’ve filed a statutory request, your employer must get back to you within two months (as of August 2023, under the Flexible Working Bill) with a decision on your suggested changes, and their response should follow the ACAS guidelines for a reasonable response.

If it’s a non-statutory request, there’s no specified timeline, so the process could be quicker or slower.

After you’ve filed your request, your manager may set up a meeting to discuss the changes in more detail, such as why you are requesting them, the concerns they have as your manager, and the benefits.

Top tips from Citzen’s Advice

People who already work flexibly recommend that you:

  • Show you are organised and good at planning ahead
  • Get the support of your colleagues and consider their needs too
  • Be willing to be flexible about your arrangements sometimes
  • Have a positive approach and be willing to suggest alternative solutions if problems arise
  • Find a supportive line manager

What about responding to a flexible working request?

ACAS have developed a guide that is frequently referenced by HR professionals, GOV UK, and Citizens Advice – read their Code of Practice here. Key points from this guidance are:

  • Talk to the employee making the request, so you can get more detail about why they’re asking for these changes and how they can balance their workload more effectively thereafter.
  • You are legally obligated to consider the request. This means looking at the benefits of the requested changes in working conditions for the employee and your business and weighing these against any adverse business impact of implementing the changes. In considering the request you must not discriminate unlawfully against the employee.
  • Your decision should be put in writing and worded clearly within two months (as of August 2023, under the Flexible Working Bill) from first receipt (unless you agree to extend this period with the employee).

Rejecting a flexible working request

If you reject a flexible working request, it should only be for the following business reasons:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • a planned structural change to your business

If you are rejecting a request, you must discuss the outcome with the employee. This also enables them to share information that supports their application that wasn’t previously available at the time of the request, or they’re unclear on your decision-making process and need clarification. If you change or uphold your decision after the employee has appealed it, it’s good practice to put this down in writing again to summarise your discussion and outcome.

What has changed with the 2023 Flexible Working Bill?

In summer 2023, the UK Parliament passed the Flexible Working Bill. Here’s a quick overview of the main changes you need to be aware of:

  • Employees will now be able to file two requests within 12 months (rather than just one request) and will not have to explain how the request would affect the business. They can now also request flexible working from day one of a new job, rather than waiting six months.
  • Employers will now have to confirm whether they are accepting a request within two months (rather than three) and will have to discuss with the employee any alternative options before rejecting a request.

For members of CMI, ManagementDirect has resources to help you understand and implement flexible working. For employers specifically, we’ve created this guidance document to show you the many benefits of flexible working, such as helping to close the gender pay gap and creating a more inclusive workplace.

This article was amended in August 2023 to reflect the passing of the Flexible Working BillIf you want to learn more about your rights around flexible working, check out this refreshed guidance from Working Families, developed with the support of the Government’s Flexible Working Taskforce (which CMI’s policy and innovation manager, Hamish Shah, has been sitting on).

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