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The rules your employer must follow are set out in the Acas Code of Practice on handling requests to work flexibly in a reasonable manner. There is also some Acas guidance containing worked examples. 

Your employer must consider your request and arrange to discuss it with you as soon as possible. That discussion need not be face-to-face. If both parties agree, it can, for example, be held over the phone. 

If your employer is happy to say yes to your request, there doesn’t need to be a meeting, although in practice, you may well want to sit down and talk about the practical impact of the change and how this is going to be managed. 

There is no longer a formal statutory right to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union rep to any meeting to discuss your request, but the Acas guidance says a request to be accompanied is 'reasonable'. Your union may have negotiated a right for you to be accompanied under your employer’s policy. 

The discussion of your request should take place in a private place, where nobody else can hear what is being said. 

Your employer must consider your request carefully, weighing up the benefits to you against any adverse business impact. 

Before making your request, you should think carefully, anticipating your employer’s likely worries and think of pragmatic ways around them. Remember that your employer can only reject your request for one of the business reasons set out in the legislation, namely: 

  • the burden of extra costs; 
  • inability to organise work among existing staff; 
  • inability to recruit extra staff; 
  • detrimental impact on quality; 
  • detrimental impact on performance; 
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; 
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee wants to work; and 
  • a planned structural change to the business. 

Focus on these reasons when preparing your request, talk to your rep and read the Acas Code of Practice on handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly (PDF, 170kb). There is also Acas guidance containing some worked examples. Remember that under the law, you can only make 2 requests every 12 months, so it is important to put your best case. 

Your employer needs to give you written confirmation of the decision as soon as possible. If the request is accepted, there should be a discussion as to how best it can be implemented, and if appropriate, how it is going to be kept under review. 

Your employer might want to trial it over a short period to find out the real impact of your suggested working pattern on the business.

If your employer plans to reject some or all of your request, they must consult with you first. The Acas Code of Practice has more information on this.

The Acas guidance says you should be allowed to appeal against any decision to turn down your request. 

Make sure you keep the lines of communication with your employer open throughout and keep a good record of what is discussed and agreed. 

The Acas guidance also says that if your employer arranges a meeting to discuss your request to work flexibly or any appeal, and you fail to attend this and a further rearranged meeting without 'good reason', the employer can treat your application as withdrawn. 

The law says that your employer must consider and decide upon your request, including any appeal, within two months of receipt – unless you agree to extend the time.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.
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