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Flexible working - what is it

This advice applies to Wales

Working flexibly means working a different work pattern to the way you work now.

This page tells you what flexible working is and who can make a formal request under the law – this is called a statutory request. There is also information on what you can do if you can't, or don't want to, make a statutory request. You could still make a non-statutory request, that is, one which is not made under the law on flexible working.

The following pages explain how to make a statutory request and a non-statutory request, help you plan your request and prepare to discuss it with your employer. They also tell you what you can do if they refuse your request.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working is the name given to any type of working pattern which is different from your existing one.  

Flexible working arrangements may include:

  • changing from full-time to part-time work
  • changing the part-time hours that you work, for example, from weekends to week days
  • changing working hours to fit in with, for example, school hours, college hours or care arrangements
  • compressed hours, that is, working your usual hours in fewer days
  • flexitime, which allows you to fit your working hours around agreed core times
  • home working for part or all of the time
  • job sharing
  • self-rostering. This is most often found in hospitals and care services. You put forward the times you would like to work. Once staff levels and skills are worked out, the shift pattern is drawn up matching your preferences as closely as possible
  • shift working
  • staggered hours, these allow you to start and finish your days at different times. This is often useful in the retail sector where it is important to have more staff over the lunchtime period but fewer at the start and end of the day
  • time off in lieu
  • teleworking
  • annualised hours, this means that working time is organised around the number of hours to be worked over a year rather than over a week. Annualised hours work best when there is a rise and fall in workload during the year.
  • term-time work, so you don’t work during the school holidays.

Asking for flexible working

There are two ways to ask for flexible working:

  • a statutory request
  • a non-statutory request.

Statutory request

This is a request which is made under the law on flexible working. This means that there is a process set out in law which you and your employer need to follow when you are negotiating your flexible working request. Under the statutory process:

  • you need to make your request in writing
  • you can only make one request in any 12-month period
  • your employer must consider the request seriously, and
  • complete the whole process (including dealing with any appeal) within three months.

Only certain employees are entitled to make a statutory request.

Non-statutory request

If you are not entitled to make a statutory request for flexible working, you can make a non-statutory one. This is one which is not made under the law on flexible working. There is therefore no set procedure for making a request. However, it is advisable to make your request in writing so that it is clear what you have asked for.

Your employer may also have their own scheme with its own rules which may be more generous than the statutory scheme. For example, it may be open to all employees regardless of how long they have worked for your employer.

Even if you can make a statutory request, you may wish to make a non-statutory request instead if, for example, the change you’re asking for is minor or temporary.

Who is entitled to make a statutory request for flexible working arrangements

To have the statutory right to ask for flexible working arrangements, you must:

  • be an employee; and
  • have worked for your employer continuously for 26 weeks at the date on which you make your application; and
  • not be in one of the groups of employees who aren’t entitled to ask for flexible working.

If you do not meet the criteria for making a statutory request, you could still make a non-statutory request, or make one under your employer’s scheme if there is one.

Who is not entitled to make a statutory request for flexible working

Even if you meet the entitlement conditions, you don’t have the statutory right to ask for flexible working if you:

  • are a member of the armed forces
  • are an agency worker. However, agency workers who are returning from parental leave do have the right to make a flexible working request
  • have asked for flexible working within the previous twelve months, whether your request was agreed to or not
  • are an employee shareholder, unless you have returned from parental leave in the last 14 days.

However, if you are in one of these groups and cannot make a statutory request, you could still make a non-statutory request.

Is the change permanent?

If your employer agrees to your flexible working request, it will mean a permanent change to your contract. However, you can both agree a trial period to make sure that the new arrangements work.

If you don’t want to make a permanent change to your contract, you may be able to negotiate a temporary change with your employer.

How a flexible working request will affect terms and conditions

If you work different hours to those you were working before, you shouldn’t be paid less pro rata, or given less holiday and other benefits pro rata. If your employer wants to give you worse terms and conditions because of your new working arrangements, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. This could include a discrimination claim.

If you have changed from full to part-time work and are given worse terms and conditions as a result, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal under the Part-time Workers Regulations. You may also be able to make a discrimination claim.

Working flexibly will not affect your statutory employment rights, including claiming unfair dismissal, statutory redundancy pay, itemised pay statements, a written statement of terms and conditions, statutory minimum notice, and the longer period of maternity leave. Any reduction in your working hours should not affect your right to join, or stay in, an occupational pension scheme. Excluding part-time workers from an occupational pension scheme is unlawful sex discrimination.

Next steps

Flexible working – planning what changes to ask for

Flexible working – negotiation

Flexible working – taking action

Flexible working – discrimination

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