Balancing work and family life can be difficult for any working mum or dad. Ensuring you can meet your obligations to your employer while being around for your children is never easy and it was this struggle that ultimately lead to me leaving paid employment. Flexible working is becoming more and more common and recent changes in the law mean employers are under a greater obligation to consider such requests.
Making a request for flexible working can be daunting. The guest post below has been written by Jude Wells, Rights Adviser at the charity Working Families. It gives you the legal background and provides a number of detailed hints and tips to hep you make a flexible working request. I hope you find it useful and good luck if you put in a request to work this way.
Flexible working can mean reducing hours, compressing your hours, taking time off during school holidays or working from home. If you’re an employee who has worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks, then your employer has a legal duty to reasonably consider your flexible working request. However, whether or not it’s accepted is your employer’s decision. This means that an effective flexible working request is one which persuades your employer that it’s a good idea. So how to go about making a flexible working request which is likely to succeed?
Before writing your formal flexible working request, do the groundwork and plan ahead. Be prepared to suggest solutions to any of the problems that might arise. For instance, gather information about other people who do similar jobs to yours on a flexible basis. It’s also a good idea to start the process with an informal conversation before you make your written request to test the ground and get an idea of what your employer would find problematic, what would the sticking points be.
When you write your flexible working request, a good starting point for structure and content is the five legal requirements. The law says that a flexible working request must:
- Be in writing and clearly state that it is a flexible working application
- Be dated
- State whether you have previously made a FW application and if so, when
- Explain the change you’re asking for and when you want the change to take effect
- Explain what effect, if any, you think the change would have on your employer and how any such effect could be dealt with
For point number 1, clearly label your letter or email with subject ‘Request for Flexible Working’.
Points 2 and 3 are self-explanatory. Remember that your employer does not have a legal obligation to consider a request if you previously made one within the last 12 months, however there is nothing preventing you from making an informal (non-statutory) proposal to change your working pattern.
Point number 4: Be explicit about what you want. State your preferred hours and days of work. You can propose multiple alternatives or state that you are open to adjustments.
Remember to say when you want the arrangement to begin.
You may also want to explain why you are asking for the flexible working request at this stage. It’s not a legal requirement to explain why you want to change your work pattern but it might be helpful in persuading your employer to agree to the request. If the reason for your request is because you are a woman with childcare responsibilities or you have a disability then it’s particularly important to state these reasons, as your employer may realise that it would be discriminatory to refuse your request.
Point number 5: Try and put yourself in your employer’s shoes and come up with a solution rather than a problem. For example, if you want to reduce your days, come up with proposals for how a job share might work, or how the workload might be reorganised among existing team members. If you are asking to not work weekends, can you find a colleague who would be willing to cover your shifts? Emphasise your continued commitment to the organisation and, if possible, suggest ways in which you might be available to undertake additional or different hours if an emergency arises.
Your written request shouldn’t be longer than one page, explain your main points but remember that the details can be worked out over the course of the process. After your employer receives your request they should arrange to discuss it with you as soon as possible, so you will have an opportunity present the details that may not have been included in your written request.
Remember you may not be offered exactly what you asked for, but your request is more likely to succeed if you are willing to negotiate and you have some flexibility. You may be inclined to not tell your colleagues about your flexible working request, however it can really strengthen your case if you can get the support of your team and line manager.
You may find it helpful to propose trying the flexible working arrangement for a trial period. A trial period can be effective in demonstrating that your role can be done under your proposed flexible arrangement, but remember that ultimately your employer might ask you to revert back to your normal work pattern at the end of your trial.
If your employer refuses your request, find out if they have an appeal procedure. Even if they don’t have a formal appeal process, it may still be worth appealing and explaining your reasons. If you want to explore legal challenges in respect of flexible working refusals, have a look at Working Families article on Flexible Working and the Law.