Can my employer change their mind over flexible working request?

I am a grandmother working in the public sector and I have formally requested to compress my hours to allow me to help my daughter with childcare arrangements. I completed a Flexible Working Request Form and my manager supported it. HR then requested a Variation to Contract Form be submitted by my Line Manager which he has done. I was then told my request had been approved. A week later my manager was informed verbally at his 1:1 meeting with his manager that my request had not been approved. I phoned HR to ask if this was correct to be told verbally that there had been a miscommunication and that there was a problem with my request and the Head of HR would ring me to explain. I have still not been informed about this a month later. Do they have to honour the initial email sent to say my request had been approved or can they change their mind?

Woman working at home


I note that you made a request to work compressed hours, which was initially accepted and confirmed to you by email, but which HR have indicated may have now been accepted in error.  You are waiting for confirmation as to the correct position, but you have now been waiting for a month and have received nothing from HR.

Leaving aside your contractual rights regarding flexible working (which may differ from your statutory rights), all employees who have worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers. Employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’ and the government website gives the following as examples of reasonable handling of a request; –

  • assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application
  • holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee
  •  offering an appeal process

Employees may take an employer to an employment tribunal if there is a failure to handle a request for flexible working in a reasonable manner.

Unless your employer’s policy has a different timeline, employers usually have three months to consider a request for flexible working and make a decision on that request and any appeal.  I understand that you made your request on 3 January 2019 and therefore your employer should (unless the internal policy says otherwise) confirm the position within three months from this date. If the request is agreed, then your contract should be changed to reflect the new hours.  If the request is not accepted, then your employer should write to you to confirm the business reason why it has been rejected. You can appeal this decision.

Therefore, as your request was initially accepted but your hours have not changed and it has been indicated there may have been an error in accepting your request, my advice in the first instance is to contact HR to ask for confirmation of the position in writing.  I would advise you say that, as far as you are concerned, your line manager approved the request, HR approved the request and you should now be working those hours.  I would suggest that you ask for written confirmation of the position if your request has not been accepted and then appeal that decision.

If the appeal is not successful or if your employer does not deal with your request reasonably as set out above, I would recommend you seek further legal advice regarding your options.

*Lucy Flynn assisted in answering this question.


Comments [2]

  • Mary says:

    I am a mother of two young children who is working in a public sector. I have requested a flexible working arrangement which was approved by my line manager and all top management. From full time I am currently working three days from Monday’s till Wednesday‘s between 9am till 5pm. My new line manager wants this arrangement change as he wants me to work on Fridays which makes it so difficult due to childcare. Can he just change my previous flexible request even I don’t agree with it? Will there be a breach of contract?

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi, Did you get written confirmation that your work pattern had changed, eg, an email to that effect? Once a formal flexible working agreement has been agreed it becomes a permanent change of terms and conditions and the employer can only change it in consultation with the member of staff and with their agreement.

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