Flexible working

Flexible working: an introduction

Flexible working is a way of staggering, sharing or breaking up the traditional nine-to-five work routine in order to improve work-life balance. Flexible working can also help you maintain a balance if you care for a child or another adult.

Flexible working is beneficial to business because it can help employers retain staff and improve staff productivity.

The term flexible working can include working in the following patterns:

  • part-time;
  • school hours;
  • flexi-time (there’s usually a core period when you have to work);
  • home working;
  • job sharing;
  • shift working;
  • staggering hours;
  • compressing hours (working your hours over a shorter period);
  • working hours spread over a year.

The right to ask for flexible working

As of 30 June 2014 all employees have the right to request flexible working.

The law does not give you an automatic right to flexible working, but employers must respond to case-by-case requests.

Both you and your employer must follow a standard procedure for requesting and considering your request.

Who can request flexible working?

You have the right to ask for flexible working from day 1 of your job.

To have the statutory right to flexible working you must:

  • be an employee, but not an agency worker or in the armed forces
  • not have made another application to work flexibly during the previous year

The process of requesting flexible working

Although you have the right to request to work flexibly once a year in writing, your employer doesn’t have to give you permission. You must say in your request how you think the change in your working pattern will affect your employer’s business and how your hours would work in practice.

If you have the right to apply, the process to follow can take up to 12 weeks. If your employer agrees to your request, this could result in a permanent change to your employment contract. If your requested working pattern is fewer hours, your pay will reduce.

Your employer should seriously consider your request. If they refuse, it can only be due to one of the business-related reasons listed in law. Your employer must state in writing what the reason for turning down your application is. You have the right to appeal if your request was turned down. However, the employer still retains the right to refuse a request.

Next steps for UNISON representatives

If you need to bargain for better conditions for flexible working in an organisation, you could try to negotiate an agreement that includes flexible working for all members.

You could also try to agree with your employer that they will publicise their employees’ rights in terms of flexible working, along with examples of what types of flexible working employees could request.

If, as a rep, you negotiate an agreement that is better than the statutory minimum, please email the Bargaining Support Group to let them know so they can spread best practice.

Key facts
  • Flexible working means spreading working hours over the week or year beyond the regular nine-to-five routine.
  • To request flexible working, you must write an official request to your employer who must provide their decision in writing.
  • Flexible working arrangements must suit employers and employees, so there is not an automatic right to work flexibly.


Flexible working

  • I care for someone I live with but they are not my partner and we are not related. Can I request a flexible working pattern?

    Yes. You may request to work flexibly if you care for someone who lives at the same address as you.

  • If I am a single parent can I request to work hours that fit in with my child’s school timetable?

    Yes, this is one of several flexible working patterns permitted.

  • My application for flexible working has been refused. Is there anything I can do?

    You have the right to appeal the decision but you must do this in writing within 14 days of receiving your employer’s decision.

    Speak to your UNISON representative who can help you with the next steps.

    For more information you may also want to contact the flexible working arbitration scheme run by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) , the government-funded, independent organisation.

    Depending on the circumstances, you may decide to complain to an employment tribunal that your employer has not followed the correct procedure or has rejected your application for impermissible reasons or the decision to reject your application was made on incorrect facts.

    In this case you could seek the advice of an experienced Citizens Advice Bureau adviser, or talk to your UNISON rep about getting legal support.