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Flexible working

Only you can decide whether to tell your employer you're a carer. You have a statutory right to request flexible working hours if you've worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks and are a parent of a child under 16 or a disabled child under 18, or if you're caring for an adult dependant who is a relative or lives at the same address as you. Find out about flexible working on GOV.UK.

There are many benefits of flexible working, such as gaining a better work-life balance while still being able to earn a living. Continuing to work while caring also provides social interaction outside of your caring role.

Flexible working doesn't necessarily mean part-time hours. You may be able to work the same number of hours but at times that suit you, such as evenings or weekends. You could also work from home or request compressed hours.

Bear in mind that although you may be legally entitled to apply for flexible working, your employer will need to assess whether there's a business case for such flexibility.

Before you apply for flexible working

Before you speak to your employer, it's advisable to find out about their policy for supporting carers. You could do this by checking your staff handbook, intranet or speaking to your manager or Human Resources (HR) department.

Making changes to how you work can make your life manageable. The Work and Families Act 2006 and the Employment Rights Act 1996 give employed carers rights that can make life easier.

Who can apply?

Thanks to these two laws, carers in employment have the right to apply for flexible working and leave entitlement. It's important to know whether or not you qualify before you go to the trouble of applying. You have the right to apply for flexible working if you've worked for your employer for 26 weeks continuously on the day you make the application.

You also have to be either:

  • a parent of a child aged 16 and under, or under 18 if they claim Disability Living Allowance 
  • a carer  this means you must be (or believe you will be) caring for a husband, wife, live-in partner, civil partner or relative, or live in the same home as an adult who needs a carer 

Flexible working

Flexible working can cover a wide range of possibilities, which means that you can plan a way of working that suits you. It may be that starting and finishing work at different times, only working during term times, part-time working or job sharing would be most helpful. You could also think about compressed working hours. For example, you work the equivalent of five days’ hours over four days, giving you an extra day free.

Click on the bars below for more detailed information on making a flexible working request, challenging a flexible working decision, and about arbitration and tribunals.

Watch the video at the bottom of the page to see how a parent carer stood up for her right to request flexible working.

Making a flexible working request

You are legally entitled to make one application for flexible working each year. However, the company that you work for may be sympathetic if your situation changes and you need to make a second application.

You must make your request in writing and date it. Your employer may have a standard form you can use.

In your request, make it clear you're a carer. Including information about who you care for and how you do this might help your case. State what changes you'd like to make to your working week, how you think it will affect your job and how any problems could be dealt with. Say when you would like your flexible working to start and whether you've made a similar request in the past, giving the date.

It can take time for flexible working applications to be processed, so make the application as soon as possible.

If your request is agreed to, it will permanently change your contract, and it may be difficult to change back again. You could ask for flexible working arrangements on a trial basis to see whether they're right for you.

Why an employer can turn your request down

Your employer can't refuse your request for flexible working without a reason. They have to have good business reasons for their decision.

These count as business reasons for refusing a flexible working request:

  • It will mean extra costs for the employer.
  • It will make it difficult to meet customer demand.
  • Your employer won’t be able to redistribute the work among the rest of the staff.
  • Your employer can't take on any more staff to cope with the extra work created by a change in your working patterns.
  • The changes you have requested will have a negative impact on quality at your workplace.
  • The changes you have requested will have a negative impact on performance at your workplace.
  • There's not enough work available at the times you'd like to work.
  • Your employer already has structural changes planned.

If your employer rejects your request, they have to tell you their business grounds for refusing your application (from the eight listed above). They also have to explain why that reason applies in your case.

If your employer turns down your request for flexible working, you can appeal in writing within 14 days.

Challenging flexible working decisions

Having the right to apply for flexible working does not mean your employer will agree to your request. Knowing how the process works, and what to do if your request is refused, will help you if you need to appeal.

How to appeal

If your employer rejects your request for flexible working, you can appeal. You have to do this within 14 days from being given the written reasons.

You can make your appeal on any grounds. This includes telling your employer something they did not know when you put in your request (for example, that someone you work with is willing to cover the times you propose being absent). Alternatively, you can challenge a fact that your employer has given to back up their business grounds for refusal.

Your employer has to arrange an appeal meeting. You can take a work colleague or union representative with you. The employer must then reply to you, in writing, within 14 days of the appeal meeting.

If your appeal is turned down, check with your employer to make sure there has not been a misunderstanding about the facts of your appeal or the procedure.

Grievance procedure

If there has been a misunderstanding and you're not satisfied, you can complain. Do this through your employer’s grievance procedure. You should find details of this in your employment contract.

In most cases, you'll have to go through the grievance procedure before you can apply to an employment tribunal. If you don't, any compensation that's awarded to you by the tribunal may be reduced.

The grievance procedure is as follows:

  • You submit a written complaint, explaining the situation from your point of view. When your employer has looked at your complaint, they will invite you (and a colleague, if you'd like to have one with you) to a meeting to talk about the problem.
  • Your employer will make a decision. This will usually be after the meeting.
  • If you're unhappy with the decision, you can appeal.
  • If your appeal is rejected, there's usually no further right of appeal, but you may be able to take your claim to an employment tribunal.

If you're applying to the tribunal because you were refused flexible working, you can only apply on the following grounds:

  • Your employer did not follow the correct procedure.
  • You were refused for something other than one of the business reasons.
  • The refusal was based on incorrect facts.

You must make your application to the employment tribunal within a strict time limit of three months. If you're going through the grievance procedure, the time limit can sometimes be extended but, to be safe, make sure you keep to the three-month time limit. It can sometimes be difficult to work out when the three-month limit starts. If you're not sure, get legal advice.

There are two other points to consider if your request for flexible working is refused:

  • Check whether your contract or any documents stating the company’s policy mention a right to flexible working. If so, there may have been a breach of contract and you should take legal advice.
  • At any stage of your application for flexible working, consider whether there is any type of discrimination against you. This may be because of your age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability or because you're caring for someone with a disability. There are also regulations that protect part-time workers.

You'll need to use the grievance procedure if any of these points apply, and you should seek urgent legal advice.

Facts favouring flexible working

Flexible working may not appeal to every employer. If your request for flexible working has been refused, being prepared could make all the difference to your appeal. It's a good idea to formulate a persuasive argument. If you can show your employer how much their business could gain from flexible working, you stand a better chance of turning a "No" into a "Yes".

Give your employer the facts about flexible working, such as:

  • Carers make up more than 12% of UK employees.
  • More than 2 million people become carers each year.
  • Since April 2007, the Work and Families Act 2006 has given some carers the right to request flexible working.
  • Flexible working can mean a variety of things, such as a change in hours, working from home regularly or occasionally, or term-time or part-time working.

Explain to your employer the difference that flexible working can make to carers, such as:

  • Flexible working allows carers to continue working and gives them vital social contact and friendship.
  • Paid work gives carers financial independence and boosts self-esteem.
  • People who juggle work and caring are committed to both. Any help they receive will be paid back with increased loyalty and effort. One working carer of elderly parents has said, “I personally go the extra mile for them because I appreciate what they’re doing for me.”

Explain to your employer the business benefits of flexible working, such as:

  • Giving paid leave for emergency or planned caring has business benefits. It can cut staff turnover, absences and employment costs. One national company believes: “Retaining carers through support or special leave arrangements saves the company about £1 million a year.”
  • Many carers are aged 45-64 years old, and these are employees at the peak of their careers.
  • Being flexible about working hours on a daily basis often means that staff can look after the person they care for and still come to work. British Gas says: “The employee wins, the person who is being cared for wins, and the company wins as well.”
  • Research by BT has discovered that their employees who worked flexibly showed an average increase in productivity of 21%.
  • BT also made major savings through flexible working, including £1 billion in office costs and equipment.
  • Flexible working can save 12 million litres of fuel a year. Reduced CO2 emissions and traffic make it a "green" choice.

Research by Carers UK and the University of Leeds shows that offering carers flexible ways of working brings impressive results. Greater productivity, improved company image and higher staff morale are all products of flexible working. Put together with the benefits shown above, they make a strong argument in favour of being flexible.

Arbitration and tribunals

If your employer will not agree to you working flexibly, you can challenge the decision. There are two ways to do this: you can go to arbitration if both you and your employer agree, or you can take your case to an employment tribunal.


If both you and your employer prefer, you can go through a process of arbitration in which an independent organisation helps to resolve differences. You can do this if your employer has not followed procedures properly (for instance, if they have not held meetings as they should have done, or if they based their decisions on incorrect facts).

Both you and your employer have to agree to go to arbitration, which is a faster, less formal and less stressful process than an employment tribunal.

The arbitrator will look at both sides of the situation and make an impartial decision. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), and other organisations, offer mediation services. ACAS can be contacted on 08457 474747.

Employment tribunals

An employment tribunal is a court that hears cases involving employment disputes. Cases are normally heard by a legally qualified chairperson and two "lay members" with employment experience. You won't be charged for making a claim at an employment tribunal.

Before you take this step, you must be sure you have followed your employer’s grievance and disciplinary procedures, or the tribunal is unlikely to hear your claim. You should also get expert advice on your situation and whether you're likely to win.

Caring and discrimination

Find out why carers need to have access to support and advice about their rights.

Media last reviewed: 17/04/2014

Next review due: 17/04/2016


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User126563 said on 05 February 2009


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Page last reviewed: 24/02/2014

Next review due: 24/02/2016

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