Flexible working requests

furlough scheme endsWhat are employees’ rights?

Under the Employment Rights Act 1966, all employees have the statutory right to request flexible working when they have worked for an employer for 26 weeks or longer, and can make one request during a 12 month period. Flexible working requests might include changes to working patterns and hours or the place of work, and employers must comply with the Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requirements.

Why is flexible working important?

More than ever, the ability to work flexibly is becoming something that employees expect. The Good Work Index is an annual survey conducted by the professional body for HR, the CIPD. Findings in the 2022 index showed that 1 in 5 employees will be looking for a new role in the next 12 months, and almost a quarter of those employees are seeking a better work-life balance in their new roles. (1)

This is in comparison to 35% of employees who are seeking greater pay and better benefits in a new role, showing that compensation is still the most important aspect of reward but work-life balance and flexibility are becoming more pursued.

Reviewing flexible work requests is of the utmost importance to keep the workforce from moving onto a job which does allow flexibility. The recruitment and training of new staff is expensive; retention of existing employees is the strategy of choice.

Types of flexible working

Variation to workplace

The pandemic has undoubtedly caused a boost to home and hybrid working, and for many employees, having access to this level of flexibility is a requirement. But remote working isn’t the only option for workplace flexibility, although it has been very present in our lives since March 2020. Some employers may have more than one location, whether that’s an office, shop or showroom, and employees may request to work from a different location to the one they work in currently.

Some employers have also begun to embrace co-working or shared office spaces, which combats downsides to working from home such as loneliness and the provisions of health and safety compliant furniture, plus the argument of whether the employer should be paying the utility bills for those who do work from home.

Variations to hours worked

Flexible working isn’t just about being able to work from home. Many employees may be seeking to change their working hours. Employers should be open-minded when looking at these types of requests and trusting in what the employee has to say – for the most part, they know their own job better than employers do.

The most obvious option is an employee requesting to go from full-time to part-time, but options such as compressed hours, annualised hours, term-time working, job sharing and flexitime working (2) shouldn’t be forgotten.


Employers must be wary about discrimination when handing flexible working requests. For example,  an employee has been on maternity leave and submits a flexible working request asking to decrease their hours upon their return due to childcare requirements. Turning down this request may be seen as discrimination, because women are statistically more likely to bear the main childcaring responsibilities.

Some organisations may have a policy to refuse any flexible working requests for employees to work part-time, and may believe that rejecting the request is not discriminatory to women, because all employees are treated the same. In this case, however, employers may find that they are indirectly discriminating against women. Treating all employees the same does not mean that there can be no discrimination, rather, that a particular group of people with a protected characteristic are being discriminated against.

Final thoughts

If an employer turns down a flexible working request without good reason, it may be the first step in the process of saying goodbye to an employee. And don’t forget, an employee may physically be in the workplace, but mentally may be missing and disconnected from the mission and objectives of the organisation. Once disconnected, employees aren’t engaged and will be less productive.

The law doesn’t mean that employers have to accept all flexible working requests presented to them. It does, however, mean that employers need to consider each request carefully and reasonably, in line with the requirements of their business.

A further update…

A new flexible working bill is on its way through the House of Commons and the House of Lords as you read this post! There will be some changes coming soon and you will need to update your policies accordingly.

Some of the key changes include:

  • Employees will be able to request flexible working on the first day of their employment rather than after 26 weeks.
  • Employers are not able to reject requests without considering them reasonably.
  • Employees will be able to make two requests in any 12-month period.
  • The period for employers to respond to flexible working requests will be reduced from three to two months.

We can write your new policy for you when the time comes! 

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