Submitting a flexible working request: Ask the expert

At the end of my maternity leave I requested to go back to work three days a week. I work at a primary school as a teaching assistant. They told me via e-mail that they couldn’t offer me three days a week, however, and that they could only offer me five mornings. This would mean I would finish work at 1.30pm each day, but if you want to take your child to nursery for a half day you have to pick them up by 1pm, therefore I’d have to pay full time child care, whilst only working part-time hours. Obviously this would not work for me cost wise – are my employers allowed to do this or do they have to offer me something more suitable? Also, a teacher at the school is allowed to come three days a week following her maternity leave, are they allowed to offer one thing to one employee and not another? I know the role of a teacher is different to that of a teaching assistant but it does not seem fair? Thanks for your help.

There are two ways to ask for flexible hours when returning from maternity leave. The first way is to make a general request (as you seem to have done). Your employer is under a duty to consider the request and can only refuse the request if there are good reasons for not being able to accommodate the hours you asked for e.g. it is not possible to properly do your job in three days. If their refusal of your request is unreasonable then you could claim sex discrimination. You have not detailed the reasons given for refusing your request and I cannot therefore advise whether the reasons seem fair or not. The other way to request your change in hours is through the flexible working rights procedure under the Employment Rights Act 1996. Employers must follow a set procedure and will only be able to refuse a request where there is recognised business grounds for doing so.  There are strict time limits that must be followed in this procedure and a meeting must be held with you to discuss your request. If your employer fails to follow the procedure or does not give proper business reasons for refusing your request, then you can claim compensation. To make a flexible working request you must satisfy certain conditions, such as:

  • You must be an employee;
  • Have worked for the employer continuously for 26 weeks at the date the application is made;
  • Not have made another application to work flexibly under the right during the past 12 months.

To make the request you must make a dated written (whether on paper, e-mail or fax) request to your employer setting out the following:-


  • That the application is made under the statutory right to request a flexible working pattern.
  • Confirmation that you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • The flexible work arrangements that you seek, whether to care for a child or an adult.
  • An explanation of what effect, if any, you think making the change would have on the employer and how, in your opinion, any such effect might be dealt with.
  • The date on which the proposed change should become effective.
  • Whether a previous application has been made to the employer and if so, when it was made.

I note that a teacher has been permitted to work three days. It would seem therefore that you should also be able to do your job on three days but you will need to ask your employer the reasons for refusing your request. There may be different aspects to your job that require your attendance at work every day. I advise you to submit your request again via the flexible working route and ask your employer to re-consider their decision.

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