My flexible working request has been rejected: Ask the expert

I currently work for the local government as a social care worker with a 28 hour contract. I am on maternity leave which is about to finish. I asked to go back to work using the flexible working policy so that I could look after my children instead of working long shifts, which include 24 hour and weekends. I was rejected, then after speaking to the union I was advised not to appeal this decision but to ask for redeployment instead, this was also refused. I feel that I am being deliberately discriminated against, no one in my department has asked for flexible working before, and was told by HR that if anyone should get flexible working then I should. Now I am faced with losing my job. I am not sure what to do, the union are now saying that either I just work the impossible by continuing with my normal shift pattern or stop working. Any advice?

It appears that you have made a formal request under the flexible working policy.  The company concerned should have held a meeting with you to discuss your proposed working arrangements before rejecting them.  I am not certain whether this took place.  I am also not sure whether, when rejecting the arrangement they gave one of the eight reasons permissible under the regulations.

Assuming that they did, they would not be able to reject your request out of hand.  They would have to seriously consider whether it would work and if necessary give you a trial period to see whether it would. I do not know whether the shift pattern or working hours which you proposed was something which should work in the existing system or whether it was something that would result in a creation of a completely different system just for you.  If the latter, then it may be legitimate to reject it.  If the former then arguably they should see whether it works first before rejecting it.  The company will no doubt argue that its only obligation is to offer you your job back on return on the same hours/shift pattern.

However they should not ignore the fact that an outright rejection without investigation or trial may amount to indirect sex discrimination. I suggest that you do in fact appeal the decision indicating that there was insufficient reason for the rejection.  You should strongly argue your case for the need for the hours/shift requested, but also try and put a business case as to why the company could manage to cope with it without too much disruption to fellow workers.  I suggest that you also propose a trial period of three months after which you could have a review to make it work. If all this is rejected again, then you may have nothing to lose but to issue a Sex Discrimination Questionnaire asking questions about the company’s working practices and make up of the workforce.

Following receipt of these results, you could then decide whether it would be worthwhile mounting a claim for constructive unfair dismissal (forced resignation amounting to a dismissal) and sex discrimination.  I would not do this lightly, however, and I would threaten it before actually doing it to see whether the company might revise its decision or at least come to a settlement with you.

Whilst every care has been taken in compiling this answer, WorkingMums cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific legal advice.

Comments [6]

  • Anonymous says:

    My partner is due to return to work from maternity in June 2015 and requested a reduction from 5 to 3 days to allow family to look after the child whilst we work. We have learned that this was declined immediately (within 3 days of submission) and prior to the initial meeting to discuss the request. Now the request has been officially declined as expected and the only option given any consideration by the employer to work the requested hours is a different job on less than half her current pay (they even sent the manager of this team to the negotiation meeting). The company has stated 3 of the 8 statutory reasons for decline but offered no further detail to support but stating that as the role is a full time contract manager the hours cannot be changed.

    We are going to appeal but none of what has happened feels like she has been treated properly or fairly and it is giving her more stress rather than easing her back to work. Any advice with how we should proceed would be much appreciated.

    Editor: An appeal is definitely the right route based on the fact that they appear to have made a decision before the meeting and in a very short time period which does not show that they have given her request due consideration, as the legislation suggests, and also that they have only given three of the allowed reasons without any further explanation and appear to be putting pressure on her to agree to the job with the large pay cut. She could ask to take a colleague in with her to the appeal if that would help her – although there is no longer a statutory right to appeal this is considered best practice. Please do come back to us via [email protected] if you have concerns about the appeal process.

  • Anonymous says:

    I am back from maternity leave after ten months off but my manager has gone on maternity the last month before I started this month, however her role wasn't recruited and they have said that I am to do some elements of her job(I have taken a pay cut for the one day off)- I requested to work from home one day a week with one day off however they rejected that as they are not recruiting my managers role while she is on maternity. They said I can only work four days not allowed to work from home. Yet my manager was allowed to work from home one day a week and have one day off she worked 3 days in office. Can I have some advice please?

    Editor: Have you filed a formal flexible working request and been rejected? It is not clear from what you say. If so, you can appeal against them turning you down if you do not feel they have given you a valid business reason for rejecting your request. There are eight grounds on which a request can be turned down and it must be explained in full – see If you have not filed a formal request, you could consider doing so.

  • Anonymous says:

    Feeling really rubbish. Had my meeting with work. I am dropping down to just 4 days. I finally got them to agree to set days each week, but not set hours within those days. I have to be totally flexible between 7am and 20:30. For an 8 or 7 hour shift. Is this right? Team leaders where I work have always been required to be flexible working varying hours (retail) however for the last 3 years I had a set working week doing the same hours all the time. That was without children. Now. They are moving me to a bigger department with more staff and saying I can't do the same hours each day of the week. Although they agreed to it for 1 of my working days. New store manager and new store HR manager. Nithing was written down either to document conversation. I tailored my flexible work request around it guidelines found on gov't website, but have still been told i have to be flexible with varying hours. Can I do anything to get set hours each day of the week I am in? (I work for a large supermarket)

    Editor: Could you write via our Advice & Support/Q & A page box and give more details on the precise reasons on which your request has been turned down? Also do you know if any other people in this department work fixed hours?

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi, I am currently on maternity and not due back to work until May 2015. I have already made my employer aware that I would need to reduce my hours from 37.5 to 31.5 . We have had a office move and I now work in a team of 4. My request has been rejected as there would be no cover for 2/3 hours on three days out of 5. We already have a member of staff who is able to leave 2 hours early every day (5 days) this was due to child care but her child has now 16! I am going to appeal any advise

    Editor: If you appeal, you would have to argue that the request was not given due consideration and take into account the reasons given by your employer. If you could suggest some way of addressing the concerns of your employer, if you consider them to be legitimate, your appeal would be more likely to be successful. 

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi, just need a little advice. I have just had my request for reduced working hours rejected. Does this mean I no longer have a job as explained in the meeting that the cost of childcare for my 2 daughters would cost more than I would earn?
    any advice you can give would be very much appreciated.

    Editor: It does not mean you have lost your job, simply that your request for the changed hours has been rejected so you still have your job at the previous hours. However, you can appeal against the rejection if you feel it was not given full consideration – see

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi. If my flexible working request is rejected can I just return to my normal position and hours? I am due back on 5th August or 1st November from maternity leave. Many thanks.

    Editor: When returning to work after Ordinary Maternity Leave (the first 26 weeks of your Statutory Maternity Leave), you have a right to the same job and the same terms and conditions as if you hadn’t been away.

    This also applies when you come back after Additional Maternity Leave (the last 26 weeks of your Statutory Maternity Leave). However, if your employer shows it is not reasonably practical to return to your original job (for example, because the job no longer exists) you do not have the same right. In that case, you must be offered alternative work with terms and conditions as if you hadn’t been away.

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