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Flexible working - your employer refuses your request

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

If you make a non-statutory request and your employer refuses, they don’t need to give you a reason. However, your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you when making a decision. You can check if refusing your flexible working request is discrimination.

This page tells you the reasons why your employer might refuse your request and what you can do about it.

Even if you work in a large organisation with good written policies, individual managers can still be dismissive about whether flexible working ‘will work here’. They may lack experience of managing flexibility, have met difficulties with it in the past, or simply feel they have too few resources to make it work. Busy managers may also resist any change that they think might be disruptive or add to their own workload.

This is why it is so important to think in advance about any concerns they may come up with, have positive suggestions for how to overcome them and be able to point to possible benefits of trying a new approach.

Just because your employer may have had a negative one-off experience with flexible working, or lacks confidence or trust in managing people more flexibly, is not a good enough reason to refuse a request. Your employer must treat each application on its merits. If they refuse your statutory request, they must show clear grounds for doing so, based on clear business reasons.

Reasons for refusing a request

Your employer can reject a non-statutory request for any reason. It’s good practice to allow you to discuss it with them. If they don’t, you could raise a grievance if, for example, you don’t think they followed their own procedure correctly.

Your employer can only reject a statutory request for a limited number of reasons. These are:

  • planned structural changes
  • the burden of additional costs
  • quality or standards will suffer
  • they won't be able to recruit additional staff
  • performance will suffer
  • won't be able to reorganise work among existing staff
  • will struggle to meet customer demand
  • lack of work during the periods you propose to work.

There are examples of each of these in the Acas guidance.

If your employer turns down your request for flexible working, they should give you a good explanation of why they believe the reason applies and why this means that they can’t agree to your request. The reason should not be discriminatory.

Your employer should also set out their appeals procedure. You may find your employer's explanation useful if you wish to appeal against their refusal.

However, 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. 

The refusal doesn’t have to be in writing but it is good practice for it to be.

Appealing against the decision

If your employer has refused your statutory request for flexible working, they should allow you to discuss their refusal with them. It may be that you have some new information which wasn’t available when they made their decision in the first place, or that you think they didn’t follow  their own policy when they handled your request.

You should be allowed to take someone with you to this discussion, as you were at the original discussion.

Following the discussion, if your employer agrees with your appeal, they should write to you to confirm the change to your working pattern and when it will start. You will then both need to make the necessary arrangements to put it in place. It is also a good idea to set time aside to review it after you've tried it out for a while.

Even if your employer doesn’t have an appeal process, you could still say why you think they were wrong to refuse your request. You could also raise a grievance. However, you should also bear in mind the time limit for bringing an employment tribunal claim.

If your application is still refused after an appeal 

In some circumstances, you and your employer may not be able to agree a flexible working pattern.

There are a number of different options open to you if you wish to take further action. These include:

  • referring your request to Acas /Labour Relations Agency or using alternative dispute resolution
  • raising a grievance
  • making a claim to an employment tribunal if certain circumstances apply
  • making a discrimination claim
  • claiming constructive dismissal.

Remember there is a time limit for taking action in an employment tribunal.

More information about employment tribunal claim time limits Starting an employment tribunal claim

Next steps

Flexible working – taking action

Flexible working – discrimination

Other useful information

Dealing with grievances at work

Acas Code of Practice and guidance

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