Flexible Working Requests

One area we are often asked to support with is flexible working requests. A survey undertaken last year found that 82% of UK business leaders believe flexibility around working practices is essential in attracting and retaining talent. The law at present states that employees with over 26 weeks service can request flexible working (1 request per year).

This can cover any working arrangement that is a change to their current contract, for example:

  • Changing start or finish times
  • Reducing hours (i.e., to work part time)
  • Working hours over fewer days (compressed hours)
  • Changing working location (working from home)
  • Requesting a job share

Under the current rules employees must make their request in writing, explaining how the employer will be impacted by the request and how the employee will deal with this. They also need to include details such as proposed start date, and details of any previous requests they have made. The employer then needs to arrange a meeting to discuss the request, and communicate the decision within writing, within 3 months of the request being made. Decisions can be appealed if the employee believes they are unfair, or the process was incorrect.

Declining a request

There is a set list of reasons for which an employer can decline a flexible working request, including:

  • it will cost too much
  • they cannot reorganise the work among other staff
  • they cannot recruit more staff
  • there will be a negative effect on quality
  • there will be a negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand
  • there will be a negative effect on performance
  • there’s not enough work at the time when work has been requested
  • there are planned changes to the business, for example, plans to reorganise or change the business


Future changes

There are proposed changes to flexible working rules, which are due to come in at some point this year. These changes

  • Enable employees to request flexible working from day 1 of employment
  • Allow 2 requests per year
  • Remove the right for employers to outright reject requests, instead they will have to consult with the employee to discuss alternatives (however, refusal reasons will remain in place)
  • Mean employers need to make a decision within 2 months
  • Remove the responsibility on employees to explain how their request will impact their employer


Relevant Case Law

Hedger v British Deaf Association. In this case, an Employment Tribunal awarded £36,000 to a woman who had a flexible working request declined. In 2019, she requested to reduce her hours after having a baby (having worked for the employer since 2014). Mrs Hedger proposed a job share arrangement, whereby she would work 2 days on her return from maternity leave, with her cover continuing to work the other hours as part of a job share.

When the request was declined, she offered to increase from the original 16 hours request, to 24 hours over 3 days. This was also declined. The reason given was that the role needed 28 hours minimum per week. Mrs Hedger claimed for sex discrimination, constructive unfair dismissal and a breach of the requirements for handling flexible working requests.

The findings

The tribunal ruled that the decision to demand 28 hours per week created a “disadvantage for women”. The company defended its decision to decline the previous request in that the employees travel would be 3.5 hours each way to get to work. In reality, her commute time was 2.25 hours, which the tribunal found to be irrelevant to the decision and application.

The company were also found to have not trialled a period of flexible working, and not considered the possibility of arranging a job share.
All three claims were upheld, and the tribunal also took into account that Mrs Hedger had suffered anxiety, sleeplessness and feelings of self-worth.

There have also been other cases with significant financial implications, including Thompson v Scancrown Ltd T/a Manors, where an employee was awarded £184,961.32 (loss of earnings, pension contributions, injury to feelings and interest). This related to indirect discrimination, where the employee had requested to finish at 5pm, instead of 6pm, to allow her to collect her child from nursery.

Hodgson v MDA Ltd, in which £60,000 was awarded due to proper, meaningful consultation not being carried out.

These cases (along with many others) all show the importance of following a fair process and considering all available options prior to making a decision regarding a request.

HR Support and Training

If you need any help managing any flexible working requests or would be interested in us delivering a managers training session on flexible working meetings and managing requests, please get in touch.