Right to request flexible working

Felicity Alexander

Editor's message: The statutory right to request flexible working is available to all employees with 26 weeks' service.

Under the right, employees can request a change to the hours, times or where they work. Requests might include a switch to part-time work, compressed hours (full-time hours over fewer days), annualised hours (fixed number of hours to be worked over the year with core hours), job sharing, homeworking and changes to start and finish times (which can include a flexitime arrangement where the employee chooses when to work around core hours).

Employers must give a request careful consideration and handle it in a reasonable manner. They can refuse the request, but only on one of the permissible grounds, such as their inability to reorganise work among existing staff or insufficient work being available at the employee's proposed working times. While these reasons for refusal are broadly drafted, employers should be aware that a legitimate refusal under the right to request flexible working may have the potential to lead to a claim for discrimination.

As an alternative to refusing the request, employers may be able to agree to the request with modifications.

Where the employer agrees to a change to flexible working, it will need to implement an amendment to the employee's terms and conditions.

Changes to the right may happen in the future - the Government proposed (in the Queen's speech on 19 December 2019) that flexible working would be the default right unless employers have good reason not to allow it.

Felicity Alexander, managing editor, employment law

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