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Changing your hours or how you work

Anyone can ask to change their hours but if have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks and you are responsible for a child under 16 (or care for a disabled relative of any age), you have a right to ask. And your boss can't just turn you down because he feels like it; he needs to have a good reason. From April 2011, everyone with a child under 18 will have this right.

Changing your hours or how you work is often referred to as ‘family friendly working’ or 'flexible working'. You can ask to change the number of days or hours you work, work different days, work from home, work flexitime, only work during term-time, stagger or compress your hours, or pretty much anything else you can think of that would make life easier.

You can only ask for changes to make it easier to look after your child. You don't have a right to ask to change your hours so that you can write your novel or make more money doing something else.

You only have the right to ask once every 12 months so it's important to put some time into your application.

Before you ask

Unless you agree otherwise, any changes will be permanent. So before you ask you need to be sure you really want a permanent change and that you can afford it. If you're not sure how it will work, you could think about asking for the changes for a trial period. You should also think about when you want it to start.

Next, you need to think about all the problems the change will cause for your boss or the business, and how these could be dealt with. Would they need to take on a new member of staff or could you swap some duties with someone else? Could you access your email and have the phone redirected so that you could work from home? Is there a way that it could even help the business - perhaps by having extra staff available at busy times or saving money at times when it is quiet?

How to ask

You should ask in writing. You can write a letter or use the form on the Directgov website: see 'Links to other websites' on the right.

If you write a letter, you need to say that you are asking for a change in your terms and conditions of employment. You should explain how you want your working pattern to change and suggest a start date for the changes to become effective.

You need to explain why you are entitled to request flexible working. For example, say that

  • you (or your partner) have a child,
  • you have responsibility for their upbringing,
  • you are asking for this change to help you to look after the child, and
  • you have not asked before in the past 12 months.

If you haven't made a formal request before you should say so and if you have, give the dates. Put a date on your application.

If you find it difficult or you're not good at this sort of thing, you should get some help from an adviser or your trade union if you have one.

If you change your mind

If you change your mind, you can just stop your application before a decision is made. But if you do this, you are not entitled to ask again for another year.

If you don't turn up to a meeting without a good reason or you don't give them the information they need, your employer can treat your application as if you had stopped it.

What happens next?

Changing your hours - prepare your argumentYour boss or someone from HR should meet with you within 28 days. This meeting gives you and your boss a chance to discuss your proposal in detail and to think about any other options.

Try not to worry about it; it should all be very friendly. Having said that, it is always best to be prepared. Before you go to the meeting, think about what you want to say and how they might respond. Make a list of the issues you want to cover, so you can tick them off as you go through. You can take a colleague or a trade union rep to this meeting if you wish. Sometimes this is helpful, particularly if you're worried about getting confused or forgetting to say things. If you need to postpone the meeting because your colleague can't come, you can, but only once.

By 14 days after the meeting, your employer should have written to you to tell you what they have decided. If they have agreed, the letter should confirm the change and start date. If they have said no, the letter should explain exactly why they have said no and tell you how you can appeal.

If it isn't possible to stick to these deadlines, they can be extended if both you and your employer agree.

If they say no

If they say no, you have 14 days to appeal. This means that they will have to look at it again. You should have been given details of who to appeal to when they turned you down. Write to them and explain why you think they have made the wrong decision. It will be useful to get some advice, even just over the telephone. See How to find an adviser.

What if they don't like it?

It is illegal for them to treat you unfairly or sack you because you asked for flexible working. If this does happen, you should consider making a complaint using your company's complaint procedure.

Ask Bev

Ask Bev!

I have applied for flexible working. Now I am getting a few too many jokes about being a hen-pecked house-husband.

It is a shame that men are often forgotten when considering child-care and family life. For some reason, very, very few men challenge their bosses when they are treated like this.

If this is upsetting you, you might want to mention to your boss what is happening. Maybe the teasing can be dealt with by a bit of training on equal opportunities at a staff meeting or a new policy on family leave. If this does not work, you should write to your boss using your company’s complaint procedures explaining how you feel.

If all else fails the law does protect you. This may count as sex discrimination and/or harassment because you are male, so you could make a complaint to an employment tribunal. You should check your intranet, office manual or staff handbook for details on how to complain.
My childcare does not fit with my hours anymore. What can I do?

You could ask to change the hours you work. First, you should try just asking your boss, he might just say yes. If you have no joy with this and you have been working for your employer for at least 26 weeks, and have a child under 16 or care for a disabled relative over the age of 16, you can make an application on a form that is available from the BIS website (see Further information). You should say why you want to work flexibly and show how any difficulties that it might cause for your boss's business could be reduced. Spend some time on your application and try to be as clear as possible about what is you want; you can only make one application each year.

Your boss may just agree to your request immediately but if not, s/he will have to arrange a meeting within 28 days of getting your application. After the meeting, s/he has 14 days to let you know (in writing) what they have decided. If they refuse your application, they will need to show how the business will suffer if your hours change. You then have 14 days to put in an appeal.

April 2011

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