Since 2014 all employees have been entitled to legally request flexible working. Up until that time, flexible working could only be applied for by parents of children under the age of 17 (or 18 in the case of disabled children) and registered carers. Now, the only condition you have to fulfil is that you must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks continuously.

But what exactly is flexible working? The government describes it as a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, such as having flexible start and finish times, or working from home (teleworking). Other examples of flexible working include job sharing, part-time working, working staggered or compressed hours and shift swapping (where employees agree shifts and time off among themselves).

Flexible working is popular too, and not just with working mothers who have children at school. According to a Jobsite survey, almost half of British men say they want flexible working and 75% of all 25 to 35 year olds say the same.

But applying for flexible working, also called making a statutory application, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get it. Your employer can refuse your application if they have a good business reason for doing so. Also, you can only put in one request for flexible working in any 12-month period. So if you’re planning to ask your employer for flexible working, it makes good sense to know exactly how you should apply and how to make a good case for your request.

Here’s what you should know:

Your application letter

You must make your application for flexible working to your employer in writing. Your application must include the following:

  • The date
  • A statement explaining that this is a statutory request for flexible working
  • Details of the kind of flexible working you’d like to do – that is, whether you want to work flexible hours, part-time hours, work from home and so on – and the date when you’d like to start. If you’re happy to consider more than one type of flexible working, include the information in your letter, but mention which option you prefer
  • An explanation of how the business might be affected if you changed your working hours, including your views on how this could be managed effectively. For instance, you may be able to suggest certain work colleagues who could cover your responsibilities when you’re not there, or offer to work extra hours in the case of emergencies. In other words, it would really help your case if you could show exactly how you can make the change to your working hours work, not just for yourself but also for your employer
  • Details of any previous applications for flexible working you’ve made in the past (state the date of the application, if applicable)

You’re not obliged to say why you want to work flexible hours in the letter, nor give any details of your personal circumstances. But most experts agree that the more information you can give, the stronger your case may be.

If you want to withdraw your application, you must also inform your employer in writing. Your request can also be withdrawn by your employer if you fail to turn up at 2 consecutive meetings to discuss your request without good reason. 

Replying to your request   

Your employer is entitled to take up to 3 months to consider your request, although this can be longer if you agree. If the company agrees to your request for flexible working, it must write to you outlining the agreed changes as well as a start date for your flexible working. Your employer must also change the terms and conditions in your contract accordingly within 28 days.

But if your employer refuses your request, they must write to you explaining why. Some of the reasonable grounds for refusing a flexible working application include that it would harm the company’s ability to meet its customers’ needs, that it would result in extra costs that would damage the business, and that it would have a detrimental effect on quality, performance and other staff members.

If you feel your employer hasn’t given you any good business reasons for their refusal, and if you believe they didn’t handle your request in a reasonable manner, you may be able to complain to an employment tribunal. You can find out more information about making a claim to an employment tribunal at gov.uk.

Meanwhile, if you’re not eligible to make a statutory application – that is, a request backed up by rules set out in law – you can still make a non-statutory one. While there’s no set format for non-statutory applications, it’s a good idea to follow the guidelines for making a statutory application and make a similar request in writing.

You can make as many non-statutory applications as you like (unless your employer has a scheme for asking for flexible working that states otherwise). But if your request is refused you won’t be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal under the law on flexible working (though you may still be able to make an employment tribunal complaint).

If you need help with your career, we offer free career development services to past and present ICAEW members and their families. Our personal and professional development courses are also designed to help you develop the skills you need to succeed in your employment.

There’s also lots more to discover about the good and bad of homeworking if you’re considering teleworking as a flexible working practice.

For advice and information call +44 (0) 1788 556 366 or chat to an advisor online 24 hours a day.

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