What are my rights to flexible working?

Following the recent court case where a mum claimed discrimination after being dismissed because she wouldn’t change her hours for childcare reasons, lawyer Karen Holden outlines your rights to flexible working.

Part timer working with a clock


Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in February 2020, thousands of women have left the workforce. Whether they have been laid off or had to leave to care for children home from school, many are struggling to balance work life and childcare.

In fact, it has been reported that one in four women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers, according to a “Women in the Workplace” report from Lean In and McKinsey & Company.

In a recently reported court case, a women who lost her job for refusing to agree to change her hours of work due to her childcare responsibilities won a case of discrimination. Incidents such as this are becoming increasingly common, as workers are requested by employers to return to the office following a year of working from home.

If your childcare obligations have changed as a result of the pandemic, and you want to have an honest conversation with your employer about changing your hours or flexible working, it is important that you understand your rights.

What are my rights to flexible working?

If you need to change the hours you work because of childcare, you can make a request for flexible work.

All employees are legally entitled to make a request for changes to their hours of work, days of work or place of work providing:

 You have been employed by your employer for at least 26 weeks by the time you make your request, and
 You have not made a request for flexible work in the last 12 months (whether it was granted or refused).

What changes to my work can I ask for?

Employees can ask to change their hours of work, days of work, place of work or a combination of all of these in relation to their present job. This means you can ask to work part-time, flexi-time, term-time only or on hours or shifts that fit with your childcare. You can also ask to work at home. This request should be put in writing with clear dates as to when you would like this to start. The better the business case – considering how it could work – the better the changes of success from a practical stance.

Your employer is not expected to find you a different job, but should consider whether any of these requests can be implemented within your current role. They are encouraged to have a meeting to discuss this, but we are aware that not all employers will do so. A decision does have to be provided within three months from your request and if declined you can appeal.

Can my employer refuse my request?

Your employer must properly consider your request and has a duty to consider requests in a reasonable manner.

Your employer can only refuse your request for one of the following business reasons:

 The burden of additional costs
 The detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand
 They are unable to reorganise the work among existing staff
 They are unable to recruit additional staff
 The detrimental effect on quality
 Detrimental effect on performance
 There is not enough work during the periods the employee wants to work, or
 Planned structural

If your employer declines your request, they must provide you with an explanation as to why this applies in your circumstances. Your employer has a duty to consider your request in a reasonable manner and your employer must not discriminate against you. If you can show that a man, for example, has been treated differently or you feel you are being treated less favourably due to a protected characteristic (such as gender) under the Equality Act, you can potentially challenge the decision.

*Karen Holden is founder of A City Law Firm.

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