Which? uses cookies to improve our sites and by continuing you agree to our cookies policy

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. Who can make a request for 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. You might be dependent on your income to support your family, you might love your job and want to build a career, but caring for a partner, relative or friend at the same time can make it difficult to balance work and life at home.

If you are one of the three million carers in Britain combining caring duties with paid employment, you might want to look into flexible working.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working offers a way for employees to adapt their hours, times or place of work to better suit their needs. It can enable carers to fit work around their caring duties, rather than having to resign. Every job and caring situation is different, so what suits you might be different to what suits someone else.

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.

Who can make a request for flexible working?

Any employee, who meets certain eligibility criteria, has the right to request flexible working for any reason. To be eligible you must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks continuously by the date your application for flexible working is made.

You can only make one application for flexible working in any 12-month period and your application needs to be in writing.

If you’ve worked for your employer for less than 26 weeks, it is still worth speaking to them about flexible working options. Although they don’t have to consider your request, some employers may be open to discussion or have their own policies in place that go above and beyond the law

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 flexible working policy, which should give details on how to make a request. To find out if there is a policy in place, check your contract of employment or staff handbook, or speak to your line manager or Human Resources department.

If your employer doesn't have this, and you are eligible to request flexible working (see Who can make a request for flexible working, above), you can follow the statutory procedure. This states that requests for flexible working have 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.

You shouldn't be treated less favourably or dismissed because you have made the request. See Protection from discrimination for more details on your rights and A guide to requesting flexible working published by Carers UK, which gives further information about how to apply.

What does my employer have to do?

By law, employers must give serious consideration to all statutory requests for flexible working. Basically, they should take time to weigh up all the pros and cons before coming to a decision.

Once your employer has received your request, it is good practice for them to arrange a meeting so that you can discuss the best solution. It may be that your circumstances are only temporary and an informal agreement can be reached. For example, you need to reduce your hours for a specified period to help a relative recover from an operation. Or it may be that you need a permanent change to the terms of your contract. You are allowed to take a work colleague (a co-worker or trade union representative) to the meeting if you like.

Different employers have different approaches to flexible working, but more are starting to understand the benefits. It can make their business a more attractive place to work and help them to keep skilled staff and save on recruitment costs.

Your employer must let you know the outcome within three months of your application, unless you agree to a longer time period.

  • 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 and explain what this is.

Valid reasons for refusing a flexible working request are set out in law and must be one of the following:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • a planned structural change to the business.

For example, your employer might turn down your request if they can’t find someone else to cover for you, or if your absence at a specific time will have a negative impact on their customers. For more detail about your rights, see the ACAS guide The right to request flexible working.

Don’t forget that if a permanent change is made to your contract you must wait 12 months before you can request another change.

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

If you’re unhappy with the way that your request for flexible working has been handled and think your request has been rejected unfairly, you can take the following steps.

1. Discuss the situation with your employer. As a first step it is worth having an informal discussion with your employer. It may be that there is a simple misunderstanding that can be easily resolved.

2. Raise a formal grievance. If you’re unhappy with the outcome of your discussion, raise a formal grievance with your employer. By law, all employers must have a written grievance procedure in place to deal with employee complaints. If your employer has a flexible working policy, this may give details on how to appeal a decision.

3. Attend an independent dispute resolution. Free mediation and arbitration services help employees and employers to resolve disputes without going to court. These can be quicker and less stressful than going to an employment tribunal. Your employer or trade union might offer mediation or arbitration schemes. ACAS also offers both (see contact details below).

4. Take the matter to an employment tribunal. If you are unhappy with the outcome of your grievance, you can take the matter to an employment tribunal. You must do this within three months of getting your employer’s decision. It's important to note that you can only appeal if you think that the matter was handled unreasonably or that the decision was unfair rather than simply because your request was rejected. For more details about making a claim to an employment tribunal see the GOV.UK website.

You can contact ACAS for advice on flexible working requests and how to handle disputes with employers. Call their helpline on 0300 123 1100 or visit www.acas.org.uk.

More information

Page last reviewed: October 2017