Responding to a flexible working request

Consider the flexible working request

If your employee has the right to make a flexible working request, it’s important to:

  • ask for the request in writing
  • consider the request fairly
  • discuss it with your employee
  • look at other options if the request is not possible
  • make a decision based on facts and not personal opinion
  • only turn down the request if there’s a valid business reason
  • give your employee a decision within 3 months of receiving the request

If you need more time to make a decision, you can extend the time limit if your employee agrees.

If you approve your employee’s request, this will usually change the terms of the employment contract.

The importance of following the Acas Code

When making a decision on a flexible working request, you should follow the Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requests.

If a flexible working request case reaches an employment tribunal, judges will take into consideration whether you have followed the Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requests.

The Acas Code applies to those legally classed as employees with 26 weeks’ service.

Check your workplace’s policy

You might have your own code or policy with some differences that:

  • better suits your workplace
  • allows employees with less than 26 weeks’ service to make a request
  • allows requests from those not legally classed as an employee

It’s a good idea to check your policy before making a decision on a flexible working request.

If you do not have a flexible working policy

The Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requests is the minimum you must follow. It’s also a good idea to have your own policy for flexible working requests. It can be stand-alone or part of a wider flexible working or equality policy.

Having your own policy can:

  • help you make the process suit your workplace
  • help you treat all requests in the same way
  • make it easy for employees to find out how to make a request

It’s best to get input from your employees when you develop a new policy, including employee representatives or trade unions. This can help make sure your policy supports your business and your employees. 

Once you have a policy, it’s a good idea to:

  • share it with all employees
  • train your line managers on how to manage flexible working requests
  • review it periodically, for example every 12 months

Download an example flexible working policy.

If there’s more than one request

You should look at each flexible working request in the order you received them.

If you get the same request from different employees

If you approve a flexible working request for one employee, you do not necessarily have to approve the same request for other employees.

You should make a decision based on whether the business can support the change they’ve requested.

Example

You get a flexible working request from 2 of your employees at the same time. They’ve both asked to work the morning shift 5 days a week.

You look at the business and realise you can only support one employee doing the morning shift 5 days a week.

You could either:

  • explain your dilemma to the 2 employees and see if a compromise is possible, as long as you get their permission to discuss it with each other
  • approve the first request you received
  • choose one employee randomly, as long as you’ve made it clear to your employees your policy is to make a random selection

Discussing the request

You should set up a meeting to discuss the request with your employee before making a decision. 

It can help to talk about:

  • the change they’re asking for
  • why they want the change
  • any problems you see with making the change
  • any other options, if the change is not possible

It’s a good idea to hold the meeting somewhere private, where you can talk confidentially. If you cannot meet face to face, you could also discuss it over the phone.

If your employee wants to bring someone to the meeting

Your employee might ask to bring someone to a flexible request meeting, for example a co-worker or trade union representative. 

There’s no legal right for them to bring someone, but it’s good practice to allow it.

Allowing the employee to bring someone can:

  • show your process is open and fair
  • make the meeting more relaxed
  • reduce anxiety or stress for your employee
  • give your employee someone to talk through their options with