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Flexible working

If you work and also care for someone, flexible working can help balance your responsibilities. We explain your employment rights and how to apply.
7 min read
In this article
Flexible working What is flexible working? Who can make a request for flexible working? How do I request flexible working?
What does my employer have to do? What if I’m not happy with my employer’s decision? Protection from discrimination at work

Flexible working


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’re 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 from their job. Every job and caring situation is different, so what suits you might vary 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’s 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.

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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’re eligible to request flexible working, 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 take on some of your responsibilities 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 to be given serious consideration if you can explain the reasons behind your request.


You shouldn’t be treated less favourably or dismissed because you’ve made the request. 

You shouldn’t be treated less favourably or dismissed because you’ve made a request for flexible working. 

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’s 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 employment contract. You’re allowed to take a work colleague (a co-worker or trade union representative, if you have one) to the meeting if you wish.


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 retain 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 employment contract to match.


If your employer refuses your request, they must have a valid business reason for doing so and explain what this is.

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

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 among existing staff 
  • an inability to recruit additional staff a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance 
  • a 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 of the day, week or month will have a negative impact on their customers.


For more detail about your rights, see the ACAS guide to the right to request flexible working


Don’t forget that if a permanent change is made to your employment 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.


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


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.


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).


Take the matter to an employment tribunal. If you’re 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.


Protection from discrimination at work


You’re entitled to feel safe and supported in the workplace and shouldn’t be harassed or treated less favourably, by your employer or other colleagues because of your caring role. The law protects people from discrimination due to their age or disability. If you’re caring for someone who is protected by the law, you’re also protected by ‘association’.


If you think you’ve experienced harassment or discrimination as a result of being a carer – for example, if you’ve missed out on a promotion, or feel intimidated or degraded by comments made by other staff – there are a number of different steps you can take:

  • try talking to your manager about the problem
  • raise a formal grievance if you’re not happy with your manager’s response
  • go to an employment tribunal if all else fails.

If you’re unsure about your rights at work or what action to take, ACAS or your trade union representative, if you have one, can give you advice on what to do.


Information, advice, training, conciliation and other services for employers and employees to help prevent or resolve workplace problems.


Call the helpline:

0300 123 1100

Mon–Fri, 8am–6pm

Customers with a hearing or speech impairment may prefer to contact us using the Text Relay service: 

18001 0300 123 1100


It can also be helpful to seek support from other carers who have been in the same situation, for example on online forums such as Carers UK.

Carers UK

A national membership charity that champions carers’ rights, connecting and supporting carers online and in local communities.

Carers UK

Join the forum for chat and support:

Carers UK Forum

Carers UK helpline for benefit checks and advice for carers:

0808 808 7777

Mon and Tues, 10am–4pm

Further reading

Carer’s Allowance

If you care for someone for more than 35 hours a week, find out if you could apply for Carer’s Allowance.

Last updated: 03 Jun 2019