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Back to School! A short guide to flexible working

With many children across the UK starting school for the first time last week, many parents will now be trying to balance their career with the school run. As most schools do not open and close at times that are consistent with the standard 9 – 5 working day that the majority of us are used to, this can make things difficult for working parents. Fortunately for parents who find themselves in this situation, they have the legal right to request flexible working.

Anyone can request flexible working, but they must qualify to do so by having at least 26 weeks’ continuous service at the time of making the application, and their employer does not have to agree to their request. There are many different types of flexible working, the most well-known of which is likely to be part-time working. Part-time working is literally reducing hours, whether this is done by reducing the number of hours worked each day or by reducing the number of days worked each week. This pattern of working could be useful for those who need to take their children to and collect them from school.

Other examples of flexible working that could be helpful for working parents are an arrangement for flexitime, job-sharing and staggered hours.

The examples mentioned above are not exhaustive and there are many other types of flexible working.

Making an application for flexible working

If an employee wants to request flexible working, their application must be submitted to their employer in writing and must be dated. The application must make clear that the employee is requesting flexible working, has or expects to have responsibility as a parent or carer and that the application is being made under the statutory right to request flexible working. The letter should say when the employee wishes to start working under the new pattern and what exactly is being requested – i.e. part-time working, flexitime etc, and should state the effect the employee expects this will have on the business and how this could be dealt with.

The employee must also say whether they have previously made a request to work flexibly, and if so when. This is because employees can only make one statutory application each year.

What happens next?

Once the employee has written the letter, the employer has 28 days to hold a meeting to discuss the employee’s application. The employee is entitled to be accompanied at the meeting by a colleague or trade union representative.

After the meeting has been held, the employer has 14 days in which to make a decision and inform the employee. If the employee’s request for flexible working has been agreed, the employee must receive a new contract reflecting the changes. If this hasn’t happened, the employee has the right of appeal.

What if the application is rejected?

A request for flexible working can only be refused for certain reasons, including but not limited to if it would lead to substantial costs which would be so significant as to damage the business, other people can’t be recruited to cover the work / the work can’t be re-organised or redistributed to other staff, and customer demand cannot be met.

If the application is rejected, the employer must write to the employee to confirm this decision. That letter must also set out the reasons for rejecting the application, explaining how agreeing the application would affect the business. The letter must also explain to the employee how he or she can appeal.

A meeting must also be held to discuss the decision and the reasons for rejecting the application.


There are only two grounds on which an employee can appeal their employer’s decision to reject their application, firstly if they don’t agree with the information that the employer relied upon when rejecting the application, and secondly if the employer was not aware of some material information at the time of making the decision that could have affected their decision.

The employee does not have the right to appeal simply because they disagree with the reasons given for rejecting the application.

A similar procedure is then followed for the appeal – a meeting must be held between employer and employee within 14 days of the employee’s appeal, and the employee is entitled to have a trade union representative or colleague present. A decision must then be made and communicated to the employee within 14 days of the meeting.

Not just for parents

Although this article focusses on parents needing to request flexible working to accommodate their children, anyone who is a carer has the statutory right to request flexible working – regardless of the age of the person they care for.

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Melissa Cook

Melissa is a solicitor specialising exclusively in employment law. Although she qualified in January 2013, Melissa has run her own caseload of employment law files for almost five years.
Melissa works with both employees and employers on all types of employment law matters, including advising on employment contracts, disciplinary and grievance procedures, and compromise agreements to bringing and defending claims in the employment tribunal.