Editor's message: While the right to request flexible working used to be limited to parents and employees with other caring responsibilities, it is now available to any employee with sufficient service.
Under the right, employees can request a change to the hours or times they work or the ability to work from home - so requests can be wide ranging and might include part-time work, compressed hours, homeworking and changes to start and finish times.
You are not obliged to agree to a formal request for flexible working, although you must give it serious consideration and handle it in a reasonable manner, and any refusal must fit into one of the permissible grounds - for example an 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, you need to remember that a legitimate refusal under the right to request flexible working may have the potential to lead to a claim under the discrimination legislation - for example a female employee refused part-time hours in relation to childcare might have a claim for indirect sex discrimination.
In any event, most employers will recognise that it is in their best interests to accommodate employees' flexible working requests, or agree a compromise, where they can - as doing so is likely to have a positive impact on important areas such as retention, productivity and employee morale.
Felicity Alexander, employment law editor
HR and legal information and guidance relating to the right to request flexible working.