If you have a job and care for someone close to you at the same time, flexible working can help you balance your responsibilities. We explain what your rights are and how to apply.

On this page we give you information about:

1. What is flexible working?
2. Do I have a right to flexible working?
3. How do I request flexible working?
4. What does my employer have to do?
5. What if I'm not happy with my employer's decision?

Combining work and caring can be stressful. Whether you’re working because you're dependent on your income to support your family or because you love your job and want to build a career, caring for a family member or friend at the same time can make it difficult to focus on your job fully.

There are as many as three million carers in Britain who also have a job. If you’re one of them, you might want to look into flexible working as a way to balance caring for a loved one with your employment.

What is flexible working?

Every job and caring situation is different and there isn’t a typical way to set up flexible working. For some carers, having the option to come in later or leave work earlier on a day-by-day basis is all they need, whereas others need to work part-time or from home.

Flexible working might include:

  • changing the hours or days that you work
  • working ‘compressed hours’ to fit a full-time week into three or four longer days
  • flexible start or finish times
  • working from a different office
  • working from home
  • term-time only working
  • part-time working
  • job sharing.

Do I have a right to flexible working?

All employees in England, Scotland and Wales have a right to request flexible working, but the rules are slightly different in Northern Ireland, find out more in Useful organisations and websites.

Before you can request flexible working you must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks. You can only make one application for flexible working in any 12-month period.

The right to apply for flexible working means that your employer has to consider your request. However, there is no right to flexible working and your employer can turn down your request if they have a good business reason for doing so.

How do I request flexible working?

If you're finding it difficult to juggle work and caring responsibilities, approach your employer as soon as possible. Some employers have their own procedure and forms for applying for flexible working so it's worth checking this with your HR representative. 

There is a formal procedure for requests, which is known as ‘a statutory application’, which you will be able to apply under if your employer doesn't have procedures of their own.

If you make a statutory application, it has to be made in writing (letter or email) to your employer and include:

  • the date
  • a statement that this is a statutory request
  • details of how you want to work flexibly
  • when you would like flexible working to start
  • an explanation of how your flexible working might affect the business and how this could be dealt with. For example, if you won’t be at work for two days a week, could someone else cover you or would it be a job share?
  • details of any previous applications.

You don’t have to give full details of your personal circumstances or even a reason for applying for flexible working, but it might help your application if you can explain the reasons behind your request.

What does my employer have to do?

Your employer doesn’t have to accept your request for flexible working, but by law they must give it serious consideration. Basically, they should take time to weigh up all the pros and cons before coming to a decision. They also have to let you know the outcome within three months of your application, unless you agree to a longer time period.

Employers have very different approaches to flexible working and you may find that your employer goes above and beyond the law to meet your request. Offering flexible working has benefits for employers too, it can make their business a more attractive place to work and they get to keep skilled staff and save on recruitment costs.

  • If your employer accepts your request, they should write to you with the details of your new working hours, and the start date of your flexible working. They should also amend your contract to match.
  • If your employer refuses your request, they must have a valid business reason for doing so. One example might be if they can’t find anyone else to cover your work or it will have a negative impact on their customers. If you don't understand why your request has been turned down, ask your employer to explain the reasons behind their decision.

What if I’m not happy with my employer’s decision?

You have a couple of different options if you don't think that your request for flexible working has been handled fairly.

  • Follow your employer’s appeal process. Not all employers have an appeal process, contact your HR or trade union representative if you’re not sure if there is one in your workplace.
  • Take the matter to an employment tribunal. You have to appeal the decision within three months of getting the decision for the employment tribunal to hear it. 

It's important to note that you can’t appeal simply because your request was rejected, only if you think that the matter was handled unreasonably or that the decision was unfair.

You can find out more about how employers should handle requests for flexible working in this guide from ACAS.

More information

Page first published: 31 December 2015
Next review due: 31 May 2017