Returning to work: how to make an effective flexible working request

Flexible working, employees' legal rights

All employees have the right to request flexible working, provided that they have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks.  This ‘right to request flexible working’ is limited in scope. It does not equate to a right insist upon a flexible working arrangement but it does require your employer to deal with your request in a reasonable manner. 

Our top tips for a successful flexible working request

We often receive enquiries about flexible working from women returning to work after maternity leave or looking for a more family-friendly arrangement. Here are our top tips to maximise your chances of having your employer agree to your flexible working request.

Seek your employer's views

Start with an informal chat with your line manager. Use this to sound out their views on flexible working.  Remember that flexible working can take many different forms, such as part-time hours, compressed hours, term time working, working from home and more.  An informal discussion at an early stage can provide insight into the type of request that stands the best chance of success within your organisation.

Part-time working, condensed hours, new working pattern- what flexibility is needed?

Think about the level of flexibility that you need. Distinguish between your ideal working arrangement (such as working a three-day week) and your essential requirements (such as being able to pick up your child from school on two afternoons when you don’t have childcare).  Explain your needs to your employer so that they understand your position and they may be more agreeable about accommodating your request.  Be prepared to listen if your employer suggests an alternative arrangement and be seen to be open-minded about your request.

Explain the benefits

Focus on the benefits (for both parties) of agreeing your flexible working request (for example: studies report greater retention of staff and increased levels of commitment and motivation). There are helpful statistics available which support the position that flexible working arrangements benefit employers as well as employees – bring these to your employer’s attention!

Offer practical suggestions for the workplace

Explain how you see your proposal working and suggest ways to minimise any disruption to the business.  Be clear that you are also prepared to be flexible in order to make the arrangement work.  For example, you might ask to work a four-day week but agree that you will be available to deal with any urgent matters by telephone on your day off during particularly busy periods in your team.  Your employer will be reassured if they can see that you are considering the impact of your changed working pattern on clients and colleagues. 

Employment law provides guidance

Plan it carefully. Employers have up to three months to consider a flexible working application, so make sure to submit your request in good time if you are hoping to have your new arrangements in place by a particular date.  There is specific information which must be included in an application (which you can find here), or your employer may have a standard flexible working application form.  

Keep it under review

Finally, once you are in your new working pattern, be proactive.  Keep your line manager updated on how things are working and review things. Suggest any changes to improve the arrangement for you, clients or colleagues. This acknowledges your appreciation of your employer’s flexibility and confirms your commitment to ensuring that business needs are also being met.

What if your flexible working application is refused?

A failure to deal with a flexible working request reasonably may give rise to an Employment Tribunal claim under the Flexible Working legislation or (more worryingly for employers) to a sex discrimination claim.  If your employer unreasonably refuses your flexible working application or if you are concerned that you have been discriminated against, we would recommend that you take legal advice on your rights.