This guide for RCN members covers flexible working options and advice on the application process.
Flexible working arrangements help create a healthy work-life balance for employees and their families. Good employers recognise the benefits of flexible working, which include recruiting and retaining the best staff, and reducing absenteeism and work-related stress.
Some of the flexible working options that could be available to you include:
To have the statutory right to apply for flexible working you must:
Agency workers also have the right to apply for flexible working when they return to work following a period of parental leave. Read more on agency workers.Back to contents
Your employer may have their own application form, process and/or policy. If not, you can download an application letter template from Gov.uk. If you are based in Northern Ireland, read more at nidirect.
Preparation is key and your request should take account of the following:
Employers should give serious consideration to all flexible working requests and consider each request objectively. On occasion, an employer may receive more than one flexible working request at the same time. Requests should be considered in the order they are received.
Your employer should meet with you as soon as possible after receiving your request. If your employer intends to approve your request then a meeting is not needed.
Your employer should consider and decide upon an application within three months of receipt (including any appeal). However, extensions can be arranged as long as you both agree. It is good practice to allow you to be accompanied in meetings by a work colleague or trade union representative.Back to contents
Your employer must let you know their decision to either:
If approved, the variation in contractual terms is permanent. You have no automatic right to revert to the previous pattern of work unless the application seeks the variation for a specified time period only. Your request may be refused on the grounds that it does not make good business sense. For example, your request may impact on staffing levels or compromise patient care. If your manager gives a solid business reason for rejecting your request then any appeal is unlikely to succeed.
Employers are under no statutory obligation to grant a request for flexible working if it cannot be accommodated by the business. It is possible that not all aspects of your proposal will be accepted, and your manager will propose a slightly different arrangement as a compromise. Be prepared for this.
Valid reasons for the refusal of all or part of a request are:
In England, Scotland and Wales there is no requirement for your employer to allow an appeal. However, if your application is refused you should be able to discuss your request if there is new information that was not available at the time of the original decision, or if you feel that the application was not handled in line with your employer’s policy. Having a clear appeal process can also help avoid a workplace grievance. As with the initial discussion, it is good practice to allow an employee to be accompanied by a work colleague to any appeal meeting. Your employer must consider the whole request, including any appeal, within three months of first receiving the original request (unless an extension is agreed).
In Northern Ireland, if your request for flexible working is rejected you have the right to appeal against the decision. Your employer must arrange to meet with you within 14 days after you receive the appeal letter. Your employer must write to you within 14 days of the meeting to notify you of the outcome of the appeal.Back to contents
There may be grounds for a claim to an employment tribunal if the employer fails to provide a valid reason for refusing your request or if there has been a breach of procedure. Refusal of a flexible working application could, in some circumstances, be discriminatory. For example, if a requirement for staff to work a particular working pattern puts women with childcare commitments at a particular disadvantage when compared to men - which cannot be justified - this treatment could amount to sex discrimination.
Employees must present their complaint to an employment tribunal within three months of the date that the employer’s decision is notified on appeal or, if in relation to procedural breaches, three months from the date of the alleged breach. Please contact us for further advice on 0345 772 6100.
Another option (if both parties agree) is to use ACAS Arbitration Servicefor England, Wales and Scotland. If both parties agree to go to an arbitration service to resolve the dispute, the employee will not be able to take the matter to an employment tribunal later on. If you are unsure about your options, please contact us on 0345 772 6100.
For Northern Ireland, the LRA (Labour Relations Agency) offers a free and confidential conciliation service prior to submitting a claim to a tribunal.Back to contents
If you have a disability, your employer is legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate your disability. This may include changes to your shift pattern. Equality legislation gives disabled people protection from discrimination in a range of areas, including employment. This is a complex topic, so if you have further concerns please contact us.Back to contents
Employees who are subjected to any detriment (for example, bullying) or are dismissed by their employers because they exercised their right to make a statutory application for time off, or for flexible working, could bring a claim in an employment tribunal. Time limits apply. Please contact us for more advice on 0345 772 6100.Back to contents