Can an organisation go back on an informally agreed flexible working request?: ask the expert

I would like some advice for my husband. I have an 8-month-old daughter and returned back to work 4 days a week back in December. To avoid paying high childcare costs my husband had informally spoken to his manager about changing his working pattern (was working Mon-Fri, but wanted to change to work Thur-Sun) so that he could look after our daughter whilst I was at work. He ‘informally’ informed them of this back in October and it was agreed. He has been working this new pattern since December, but was called into a meeting last week as they said it could not continue! He explained the situation regarding caring for his child and the right to request flexible working and they have now asked him to fill in a formal request. Can they now change their mind as we hadn’t put in a written request or received their agreement in writing back in October?

Where a change is agreed to your contractual terms then this will be a permanent change unless there was a specific agreement for the new terms to be undertaken on a trial basis. You have not mentioned a trial period or any suggestion that the employer reserved the right to review the new hours. Therefore it appears that the change to hours is a permanent change. The employer cannot therefore now choose to change the hours back. However given that the agreement was verbal there may be disagreement over what was actually agreed at the time e.g. the employer may say that the hours were to be on a trial period and it will be your husband’s word against theirs. I suggest that your husband puts in writing the change to his hours as agreed and makes it clear that this was supposed to be a permanent change and that he does not agree to any variation to his contractual terms. He should say that he does not therefore believe it appropriate for him to put in a flexible working request as the change to his hours has already been agreed and implemented.

An employer cannot change hours of work without an employee’s consent. If an employee refuses to consent to a change and the change is forced upon them or the employee is dismissed and offered re-engagement on the new terms, then the employee may have an unfair dismissal claim. Your husband should take further legal advice if he reaches this point.

At this stage, he needs to put in writing his contractual position in relation to his hours (as referred to above) and raise a grievance if his employer tries to push him into changing his hours.


Comments [1]

  • Anonymous says:

    This is similar to my situation. I accepted my job on the proviso that I could work my hours flexibly, but an increase in commitments a few months later led me to ask for the arrangement to be formalised via a flexible working request. Not only was my request (to continue working as I had been since day one) rejected out of hand with no compromise offered, but my employer's response was to insist that I start working rigid hours at times that would greatly increase my commuting time and costs.

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