Flexible working: a guide

New flexible working regulations came in over the weekend. But what do they mean and how does the process work for making a request for flexible working?

workplace flexibility supports employees


New legislation came into effect at the weekend on flexible working. Here we outline your rights and the process of requesting flexible working.

Flexible Working can cover working different times/ hours or working from a different location. For example:

  • Part Time Hours
  • Flexi-time
  • Compressed Working Hours
  • Job Sharing
  • Shift Work
  • Working from Home
  • Career Breaks
  • Annual Hours


Why has we got flexible working legislation? The UK workforce has become more diverse…. reflecting changes in society:  an increase in women at work, single parents, our ageing population etc.

Domestic & family responsibilities have also shifted over the years and in response legislation has evolved & changed to offer both men and women the opportunity to request flexible working.

Legislative requirements

The need to provide parents with more flexible working patterns was identified following the issue of the Government’s Green Paper – “Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice”.

The Government subsequently set up the Work and Parents Taskforce to consider the issue of working parents and flexible working.

They submitted their final report – “About Time: Flexible Working” at the end of 2001 and this has formed the basis of the Act which covers eligibility & procedural requirements. It has since been updated in June 2014 to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees and now the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act has come into effect as of 6th April which means employees can request flexible working from day one in a new job.

Why should employers consider flexible working seriously?

Cost savings due to reduced absenteeism

Flexible working could help to reduce the rising employee absence trend. More progressive companies believe that by allowing workers time off to deal with personal issues and childcare, there is less likelihood of employees having to resort to calling in sick.

Improved retention rates

Those skilled employees who take on parental responsibilities may find it difficult to juggle full-time office-based work with childcare issues and therefore offering flexibility helps to retain those may have otherwise left an organisation to seek more flexible work elsewhere.

This means cost savings through not having to recruit or train replacements.

Increased flexibility for customers

In our increasingly global environment with rising customer expectations of service levels and access to products etc, offering flexible working may well mean that employers can adapt more effectively to their customers’ needs.

Whilst the initial steps in deviating from historical working patterns / practices can seem daunting, the benefits to customers and therefore the business in the long term may be realised.

Improved employee motivation & reputation as an employer

Whilst a desire for flexible working may not be a motivator for all employees, those who have been offered the opportunity to balance their work and home life tend to be extremely grateful.

Indeed within companies offering flexible working opportunities to all employees irrespective of legal obligations, employee engagement & satisfaction ratings tend to be higher.

Employees generally are more motivated and committed – and prepared to go the extra mile if they feel their employer is being accommodating of their requirements.

High-performing employees are likely to have more choices in terms of employer, and therefore offering flexible working as a benefit is likely to give employers more access to the best employees, as an employer with a good reputation for balancing business and employee needs. Moreover, since Covid, employees expect flexible working more.

Moving with the times! – get ahead socially & technologically

Some would say that we are moving into a new world where different people will work different hours at different stages of their lives, utilising the fast moving technological advances we’re experiencing.

Some would also say that socially employers have a responsibility to enable a wider range of people to access and stay in work, including those with caring responsibilities.

Employers need to consider how they want to be perceived by current and prospective employees, and also what kind of values they represent.

Stakeholders and customers alike will also likely be influenced by both the working environment created by the employer and the employer’s approach to the community/society.

Aside from any social arguments, there are robust business benefits to be gained from being more progressive:

Home working can reduce overhead costs for employers (eg desk/office sharing) so by recognising the amount of work that is done in many roles using today’s technology ie computers, telephone etc, employers can often utilise home working requests to their advantage – limited interruptions too can serve to increase productivity.

The rules…

Under the new rules, people can apply for flexible working from day one in a new job and can make up to two applications a year. This can be to change:

  • the number of hours they work
  • when they start or finish work
  • the days they work
  • where they work

Making the application…

The application from the individual must be made to the employer in writing by email or letter.The application must include:

  • the date
  • a statement that this is a statutory request for flexible working
  • details of how the employee wants to work flexibly and when they want to start
  • a statement saying if and when they’ve made a previous application, including the date of any previous request

The process

The basic steps are:

  • The employee writes to the employer.
  • The employer considers the request and makes a decision within two months – or longer if agreed with the employee. Employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. Examples of handling requests in a reasonable manner include: assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application; holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee; and offering an appeal process.
  • If the employer agrees to the request, they must change the terms and conditions in the employee’s contract by writing to the employee with a statement of the agreed change and a start date for flexible working
  • If the employer disagrees, they must write to the employee giving the business reasons for the refusal. The employee may be able to complain to an employment tribunal.

Tips for managers…

When considering the request, managers should ask the following questions to make sure they have thought about every aspect of the proposal.  Just because something has previously ‘not been the norm’, it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t or couldn’t work now and in the future.

‘Thinking outside of the box’ could enable you to turn a request into a positive opportunity for the business.

Job Analysis

  • Do the employee’s proposed hours fit in with the tasks outlined in the role?
  • If not, could the tasks be divided up differently?
  • Could you re-allocate some of the work to another team member?
  • What will be the impact on customers of this change – could it be used to our customers’ advantage?
  • Is there a compromise that could be reached that will satisfy the individual’s requirements as well as the company’s objectives?

Managing the new arrangements

  • How will the new arrangements be supervised and performance measured? Ensure outputs can be measured where possible and not the number of hours worked – set clear objectives and measure quality of service/work. Obtain & give feedback regularly.
  • Will the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs of implementing the change?
  • Will there be any Health and Safety considerations? (For example, a Health and Safety Workstation assessment will need to be completed for those working from home).

Impact on the team

  • Advise other team members of the change
  • Ensure flexible workers remain informed and arrange for all important information to be forwarded onto them
  • Involved flexible workers in all aspects of team-working

How can I make it work in practice?

Job sharing normally consists of two individuals sharing a full-time position (in varying proportions ie 50/50 or 60/40 etc, however they should have separate employment contracts stating the agreed hours to be worked accordingly. Many arrangements allow for some overlap to ensure sufficient communication / handover.

With notice, some job share individuals will be happy to cover their “partner’s” absences eg providing holiday cover etc without the need to source additional temporary support in such cases.

Job sharing may come about by two current employees agreeing to share a role, or by a previously full-time employee wishing to reduce their hours and the employer agreeing to advertise the rest of the role as a job share position.

Whilst there may be some additional costs incurred (due to some overlap of hours for handover purposes, some benefits not able to be pro-rated eg Private Medical Insurance etc), most job share arrangements once established offer the employer increased flexibility and the benefit of higher morale & commitment.

Whilst managing two individuals rather than one may sound onerous, their different skills / work style preferences may well complement each other well to provide you as the employer a wider array of skills and abilities.

Home working can often be an ideal solution for companies wishing to implement office/desk sharing thus saving in overhead costs. Furthermore, certain duties / aspects of a role can be carried out very productively from home – with no office distractions or interruptions.

Whilst historically there have been concerns about how to manage employees remotely, many companies now measure success on outputs / quality of work & have found that some home working can be extremely productive. It may be worth employers reviewing their approach to appraisals and criteria for measuring performance – they need to remember that just because someone is located in the office where they can  be ‘supervised’, it doesn’t mean they’re more productive than someone working from home with specific duties / tasks to perform.

A Workstation Assessment should be carried out to ensure compliance with Health & Safety regulations and consideration needs to be given to confidentiality of information being accessed from home – but these issues are easily overcome and can be outweighed by cost savings and increased productivity, as well as higher employee motivation & commitment.

Refusing the application? …

Managers will need to have a meeting with the employee before rejecting an application and must give a valid legitimate business reason. They will need to think about their reasons carefully. Applications for flexible working arrangements can be refused only for the following reasons:

  • The additional costs will impose a burden.
  • Agreeing to the request will have a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.
  • Inability to re-organise work among existing staff.
  • Inability to recruit additional staff.
  • Agreeing to the request will have a detrimental impact on quality.
  • Agreeing to the request will have a detrimental impact on performance.
  • There is insufficient work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
  • There are planned structural changes.

There is no statutory right to appeal against a rejection, but it is advised under the terms of handling a request in a reasonable fashion.

Failure to follow the guidelines could lead to a claim – the time limit for bringing a claim to an employment tribunal is three months from the date the employee is notified of the decision on appeal or breach of this procedure.

If the claim is successful, the tribunal may order the employer to reconsider the request and award compensation.

*Written by HR consultant Jane Barclay. 

[This overview is intended for general advice only – employers should consult an employment lawyer for assistance with legal matters]. More information from Acas.

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