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Flexible working

This guide for RCN members covers flexible working options and advice on the application process.


Flexible working options

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:

  • part-time working
  • flexi-time
  • compressed hours
  • job-share
  • term-time working
  • reduced working
  • career breaks
  • working from home.
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Eligibility

To have the statutory right to apply for flexible working you must:

  • be an employee, but not in the armed forces
  • have worked for your employer for 26 weeks continuously before applying
  • not have made another application to work flexibly under the statutory right during the last 12 months.

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

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Preparing your flexible working request

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:

  • check if you are eligible for the statutory process, and check any local policies on flexible working and work-life balance
  • speak to your colleagues about your proposed changes. If you have the support of your colleagues it is much easier to put in a strong request, as it is likely your team will need to show some flexibility to accommodate you
  • if there is one, speak to your local RCN representative. Your representative may have information on what happened when other staff members have requested shift changes. If you do not have a local RCN representative, contact us for advice and support
  • complete all necessary paper-work. Specify a start date for the proposed change, giving your employer reasonable time to consider the proposal and implement it (this may take 12-14 weeks). Date it and state if (and when) a previous application has been made
  • your proposal should persuade your manager that it is feasible, and may actually improve the running of the service
  • give solutions to any problems or issues which may arise, or have arisen from previous shift changes
  • highlight the benefits to the service of your proposed change
  • be diplomatic. Your approach to your manager will have a great impact on the final decision your manager makes.
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Employers' duties

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.

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Employer's decision

Your employer must let you know their decision to either:

  • accept your request and establish a start date (and any other action) or
  • agree a compromise agreed at the discussion (for example, a trial period) or
  • reject the request setting out their clear business reasons, how these apply to the application, and details of any appeal process.

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:

  • the burden of additional costs is unacceptable to the organisation
  • inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • inability to recruit existing staff
  • the employer considers the change will have a detrimental impact on quality
  • the employer considers the change will have a detrimental impact on the business’s ability to meet customer demand
  • detrimental impact on performance
  • insufficient work
  • planned structural changes.
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Appeals

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. 

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Disputes

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. 

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Flexible working and disability

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.

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Detriment and unfair dismissal rights

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.

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Call the RCN on: 03457726100