The legal aspect of flexible working requests
  • Since 30 June 2014, all employees who have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks have had the right to request flexible working (previously just parents and carers). 
  • The right to request does not mean the right to have requests granted, it means that your employer must handle requests in a 'reasonable manner'. A reasonable manner includes assessing the advantages and disadvantages of granting your request.
  • You can only make one flexible working request per year and a decision must be given by your employer within three months of you submitting (or longer if agreed with you).

Your application must include:

  • The date
  • A statement that this is a statutory request
  • Details of how you want to work flexibly and when you would like to start
  • An explanation of how you think flexible working might affect the business and how this could be dealt with 
  • A statement saying if and when you've made a previous application.
1. Share research on the positive impact of flexible working

Employees who work flexibly are, on average, more committed to the organisation than employees who don't work flexibly (see Kelliher & Anderson, 2010). Other research shows those who work flexibly feel grateful and also the need to reciprocate through working harder. A study by Catalyst (2013) found that women in organisations that offer flexible working are 30% more likely to aspire to high-level positions than those at organisations that do not offer flexible ways of working. By highlighting this type of research, you're sowing the seeds to win over a line manager who may be otherwise reluctant to support flexible working.

"You need to assure the partner that the quality of your work won't change but that the ability to work flexibly will ensure that you give your best to both work and home. Clients don't mind people working flexibly and I think a lot of partners find that a difficult concept. Be firm about your flexible working and monitor your workload."

Claire Whyte, legal counsel, RBS

2. Have an open conversation with your line manager

If you're likely to want to make a flexible working request, it could be helpful to sound out your line manager before you leave. You could ask a broad, open question such as 'what are your thoughts about how my role could be done flexibly?' Depending on the response, you can tailor your disclosure on your current thinking. Sharing some of your thoughts about how it could work signals your desire to be helpful; this clearly paves the way for positive and productive conversations later.

"Ensure that you have an informal chat first to see if you can frame your request in an attractive manner from the off. Make sure you emphasise how it will benefit the employer and also how it can be done to minimise the employer having to do additional work and ensure they can see that it could work. Also demonstrate how it will help you and make you more loyal and committed."

In-house public sector

Types of flexible working
  • Part-time hours
  • Compressed hours
  • Annualised hours 
  • Working from home/remotely
  • Term-time working only
  • Different hours during term-time and school holidays
  • Guaranteed time off in school holidays
  • Staggered hours, eg coming in early and leaving early
  • Specifically timed lunch break
  • Working from home when a child is ill
  • Different hours on different days or under certain circumstances

"My flexible working request was agreed with ease as I had already set up an expectation prior to going on mat leave that I would be looking to reduce my hours on return. A four-day week is what I identified as being appropriate for me and there were already lots of other examples of mothers working four days across the firm. I am aware that if I had been asking for fewer hours or more unusual working practices (working from home/compressed hours etc) then there may have been more difficulty getting this agreed as there are not as many examples of this already in place. Focus on how flexible working will benefit you and your employer - that you will be more productive during the time that you are at work; that there are measures that can be put in place to cover client work in your absence (generally I am not the only fee earner with an overview of any single matter but it was a requirement that I agreed to be contactable on my day off in urgent circumstances); that your employer accommodating flexible working will ensure that you continue to feel valued by the firm and that you will be better able to demonstrate commitment to the job if you are not thinking that you need to be/would rather be at home."

Kate Gillies, solicitor, Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP