Advice: Do I have the right to flexible working hours?

Pat Hutchinson MBE.
Pat Hutchinson MBE.

By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey

Q: I have worked for my employer for five years and my mother is ill and I need to ask for my hours to change in order to work around her care. What are my rights?

A: What is flexible working?

Flexible working is the name given to any type of working pattern which is different from your existing one.

There are two ways to ask for flexible working - a statutory request and a non-statutory request.

• Statutory request: This is a request which is made under the law on flexible working. This means that there is a process set out in law which you and your employer need to follow when you are negotiating your flexible working request. Under the statutory process:

• you need to make your request in writing

• you can only make one request in any 12-month period

• your employer must consider the request seriously, and

• complete the whole process (including dealing with any appeal) within three months.

To have the statutory right to ask for flexible working arrangements, you must:

• be an employee; and

• have worked for your employer continuously for 26 weeks at the date on which you make your application; and

• not be in one of the groups of employees who aren’t entitled to ask for flexible working.

Even if you meet the entitlement conditions, you don’t have the statutory right to ask for flexible working if you:

• are a member of the Armed Forces

• are an agency worker. However, agency workers who are returning from parental leave do have the right to make a flexible working request

• have asked for flexible working within the previous 12 months, whether your request was agreed to or not

• are an employee shareholder, unless you have returned from parental leave in the last 14 days.

However, if you cannot make a statutory request, you could still make a non-statutory request or make one under your employer’s scheme if there is one.

• Non-statutory request: If you are not entitled to make a statutory request for flexible working, you can make a non-statutory one. This is one which is not made under the law on flexible working. There is therefore no set procedure for making a request. However, it is advisable to make your request in writing so that it is clear what you have asked for.

Your employer may also have their own scheme with its own rules which may be more generous than the statutory scheme.

If your employer agrees to your flexible working request, it will mean a permanent change to your contract. However, you can both agree a trial period to make sure that the new arrangements work.

If you don’t want to make a permanent change to your contract, you may be able to negotiate a temporary change with your employer.

There are only limited reasons why your employer can refuse your statutory flexible working request. For example, because the business would be adversely affected.

Remember that while you have a right to make a request and to have it considered fairly, this doesn’t mean you are entitled to get what you want. There needs to be a consensus. You have a right to appeal this decision.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice or go to Call at: Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Dunanney Centre, Rathmullan Drive, Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, BT37 9DQ. Telephone advice is available 9am – 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (Lunch 1pm - 1:30pm). Email advice is available at