Request to reduce hours is being ignored: ask the expert

I am coming to the end of my maternity leave and have been trying to sort out childcare for my return to work in August. Five weeks ago I contacted my employer, first by phone then email, to request a slight movement in my hours (I worked 18 hours a week) to help me with my childcare. He suggested there should be no problem and forwarded it to my supervisor to look at. Two weeks ago I phoned to ask if anything had been looked at as my childminder had contacted me to say she was getting booked up. He said he’d contact my supervisor and I am still waiting to hear, despite me having told him I’d like to sort out my hours as soon as possible. There has been minimal contact from work while I’ve been off and I have a feeling they don’t want me back. I feel it is unfair as I have tried to sort this out in plenty of time so that everyone can arrange things accordingly. If my childminder does get booked up I will be stuck, she can only hold onto my place for so long. Please can you advise me on what my next action should be? Thanks.

There is a statutory procedure laid down in relation to employee requests for flexible working. In summary, on receiving a request for flexible working from an employee (which must be in writing), the employer must adhere to the following timelines:

  • Arrange a meeting with the employee within 28 days of receiving the application to discuss the request. The employee can be acccompanied by a work colleague if they so wish.
  • Notify the employee of their decision within 14 days of the date of the meeting.
  • This notification will either accept the request and establish a start date, or confirm a compromise agreed at the meeting, or reject the request and set out clear business reasons for the rejection together with notification of the appeals process.
  • There is a right to appeal and the employer must arrange to hear the employee’s appeal within 14 days of being informed of the employee’s decision to appeal. The employee must be allowed to be accompanied by a work colleague if they so wish.
  • Notify the employee of the decision on the appeal within 14 days after the date of the meeting.

Employers can decline applications based on several criteria, one of which is the detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand i.e. in your case they would need to objectively justify why they think the job requires previously worked hours if they weren’t prepared to accept your request.  So depending on exactly how long it is since you made your request in writing, your employer may not have followed the statutory process (this is the case if it is five weeks since your written request by email was received). It is just possible that your supervisor is not aware of the statutory guidelines (or a company policy on the subject) so I suggest you write a letter and send it by post and as an email attachment outlining your understanding of the statutory guidelines and reminding them that a meeting is required to discuss your request following your written request being submitted on X date.

If following this there was no response, you could lodge a grievance using your company’s grievance procedure since then they are obliged to hold a meeting with you to discuss the grievance, but before doing this I suggest as above that you contact them again informally but clearly stating the dates of your initial request and demonstrating that you were following the statutory procedure and encouraging them to do the same in a constructive way.

Employees are also entitled to ‘Keep in Touch’ (known as KIT days) under current maternity leave statutory guidelines, so it is also of concern that they’ve not made you aware of this entitlement which is designed to keep both parties in touch for the duration. If you have no joy with the above informal approach and do decide to lodge a grievance, it would be worth raising this matter too.

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


Comments [6]

  • Anonymous says:

    I currently work 35 hour a week, I have been offered a great job on bank (as and when I'm needed) at a new place. so I asked my current work if I can reduce my hours to 21 a week and she said no . I have two children under the age of 4 and have worked at my current job since June 2014.

    Editor: Did you make a formal request for flexible working? If not, it is a good idea to do so as this can only be turned down on one of eight grounds and your employer must show they have given your request due consideration – see

  • Anonymous says:

    hello, I've just requested to reduce my work hours to take and collect my daughter from school when she starts in September this year. I wrote to my boss in December 2013, but they have yet to reply. Any idea how long it should take? I am nervous about the reply.

    Editor: According to the flexible working legislation, your boss should reply within 28 days of receiving your request – see If more than 28 days have passed, it is worth sending a gentle reminder, pointing out the time limits in the legislation. It may be that the Christmas break has slowed things down.


  • Anonymous says:

    hi, as my flexible working request was never concluded or a final decision made, also the due process was never followed and all communication to my employer i.e. emails were never responded too, I decided to resign from my position and the company, stating that I need to source income for my family and would need to seek employment elsewhere. My employer has come back to me asking me to retract my resignation as they want me to start immediately with my requested hours and they will back pay me, but I do not wish to return or retract. I just want a fresh start. Can I do this? If they do not accept my resignation can they refuse to pay me my accrued holiday pay? My AML finishes on 1st November 2013 so I have resigned whilst on AML and not OML. 

    Editor: You have every right to resign if you do not want to return, but you should give your contractual notice, and you accrue holiday up to the point of your notice period. Have you been receiving SMP or contractual maternity pay? If the latter, you may have to pay back some of your pay – check your contract.

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi. I sent my flexible working request back in June which my employer received on 12th June. They never responded until 17th July and the meeting took place on the 25th July. It was agreed that we wait another 4 weeks for a decision. I have in the meantime emailed my employer on 5th August asking for the minutes of the meeting. This email was never responded too. I also asked them on the 5th August via email for my accrued holiday pay to be paid this month..again this email was ignored. I have still not heard anything, but my request was to start work on 3rd September…where do I go from here as I need to sort nursery placement etc. Many thanks.

    Editor: You could submit a grievance, saying that due process in flexible working legislation was not followed [see that your emails are not being responded to, that you have to sort childcare out and that your holiday pay has not been forthcoming.

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi, I am now going back to my weekend job in two weeks. I used to work 16 hours a week on a rotational shift from 8 am till 10pm. They firstly stated that I was expected to work my previous shift pattern. I however requested a flexible working request, first stating that I can only do from 10 am to 4pm as after 5 I have no one looking after my little one.
    But according to the operational reaquirement I have to do 16 hours shift on weekends and need to provide some degree of flexibility. I then offered that I will be able to do 9 to 5 once I spoke to my mum who will be looking after my little boy. HOWEVER, they have now stated that I have to work 16 hours from 8 till 4, 9 to 5 and 10 till 6. So I had to rearrange with my mum, and wrote back to my manger stating, fine I will do 16 hours 8 to 4, 9 to 5 but can't do anything after 5pm as no childcare is available for my little one. But that has now also been rejected and I have been asked to make an appeal. I am now worried that it will be rejected. what do i do? I can't do anything after 5pm. Will they force me to work? I don't want to resign either.. but would this mean they will dismiss me? Please advise.

    Editor: Our HR expert Sandra Beale says: Your employer’s inflexibility with regards to the working hours could constitute indirect sex discrimination as women are more likely to be affected then men because they are more likely to have caring responsibilities.  If your employer insists on the stipulated working hours and you do not work after 5pm on the days where you are required to work till 6pm then your employer could dismiss you.  That would be fair provided they follow a disciplinary procedure during which you would have the opportunity to comment on your situation.  If you were dismissed, however, you would then need to  decide if you wanted to raise a claim of indirect sex discrimination in an employment tribunal.


  • Anonymous says:

    I have recently been on a rehabilitation scheme as I had 6 months off with depression, I have recently asked to reduce my hours by 2 hours a day but still work normal hours on a Saturday. Can this be refused?

    Editor: Could you send your request via our Advice & Support/ Q & A page box as then we have your email and our experts can contact you if they have follow-up questions so they can advise you better.

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