The benefits of flexible working and how it could help you
If you need to combine work with your caring responsibilities, it may be possible for you to request a flexible working arrangement to help.
More than ever, both employers and employees are recognising the benefits of flexible working. The COVID-19 pandemic has, without doubt, highlighted people’s ability to adapt to more flexible working arrangements, proving how effectively organisations can operate in new and often challenging circumstances.
After taking the initiative to change their working hours, many carers have reaped the benefits, as have their employers (who have avoided losing valuable talent and experience).
They describe having more energy, focus, peace of mind and greater wellbeing, the benefits of which are indeed also felt by those they are caring for.
Flexible working videos
One carer, Ally, describes working flexibly as a ‘win-win situation’ for both the employer and for the employee. Carers Jane, Ally and Niki all describe their experiences in our videos series.
What flexible working options are there?
Before approaching your employer, you should consider what type of arrangement would work best for you. It could be a small change or something more significant. There are examples below:
- Flexi-time – employees may be required to work within set times but outside of these 'core hours' have some flexibility in how they work their hours.
- Working from home or remote working – where employees spend part or all of their working week away from the workplace. Home-working is just one option.
- Job sharing – usually two employees share the work normally done by one person.
- Part-time working – employees might work shorter days or fewer days in a week.
- Term-time working – employees don’t work during school holidays and either take paid or unpaid leave or their salary is calculated pro-rata over the whole year.
- Staggered hours – employees have various starting and finishing times meaning that goods and services are available outside traditional working hours.
- Compressed hours – employees work their total hours over fewer working days eg, a 10 day fortnight is compressed into a nine day fortnight.
- Mealtime flex – employees take their lunch break when it suits them during the work day. Some employees may choose to take a shorter break instead and leave work earlier.
- Annualised hours – employees work a specified number of hours over the year but have some flexibility about when they work. These employees usually have a set number of ‘core’ hours they work each week and work the remainder of their hours flexibly.
For more details, see our guide ‘Let’s talk about flexible working’.
The Carer’s Leave Act has now received Royal Assent and will become law. The law will come into force at the earliest in April 2024, though the date has not yet been confirmed.
This new Act will give unpaid carers balancing unpaid care with paid employment the legal right to five days of unpaid carer’s leave. The details of how these new rights will work in practice will be confirmed later this year and early next year.
Carers UK has led the campaign for the introduction of carer’s leave for decades and we’re delighted to see it become an Act and set to become law.
Find out more in our press release.
Do I have the right to request flexible working?
There are two types of request that you can make: statutory requests or non-statutory requests. This information mainly covers statutory requests but the table here outlines the differences to help you decide if a non-statutory request might be more appropriate.
Making a statutory request
You have the legal right to request flexible working if you have been an employee with 26 weeks (six months) of continuous employment at the time you make an application.
Some employers provide better rights to flexible working than the basic rights outlined in this guidance so it’s worth checking your contract of employment, staff handbook, HR policies or letter of appointment, in case they suggest a better entitlement.
Note: For a summary of the statutory rights in work which may be of interest to you as a carer, download our factsheet: Your rights in work.
Applying for flexible working
You can make a request at any time, as long as you have been employed continuously for 26 weeks. It is best to make the request as soon as possible – your employer has up to three months to make a decision.
The law gives you the right to make one application a year for flexible working, so it is important that you put forward the best case you can. However, your employer may be understanding if you find your circumstances change and you need to make a further application, but they are not legally required to.
It is worth thinking about whether a trial period might help. This gives both you and your employer an opportunity – without commitment and a permanent change to your contract – to test out the suggested working pattern to see what impact it has on both you and the organisation.
It is a good idea to discuss your thoughts first with your manager. Then the request for flexible working must be made in writing and include:
- the date of the request
- an outline of the working pattern you would like
- an explanation of the effect, if any, you think the proposed change might have on your job and how you think this could be dealt with
- the date on which you would like the proposed change to start
- a statement that it is a flexible working request
- whether you have made any previous requests, and if so the date of those requests.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has created a template (here) for flexible working requests that you may find useful to fill in and print. Writing your flexible working request in your own words is also fine but of course, remember to go through the above checklist.
Although you are not required to, giving reasons why you are making the request, may strengthen your application. Nor do you have to provide proof of your circumstances, ie that you are a carer, but again the more details you can give, the better your chances of success may be.
The Acas Code of Practice recommends that an employee should be allowed to be accompanied to meetings to discuss flexible working requests.
Here are four key tips you could consider:
Tip one: Make notes about what changes you would like – try to come up with constructive solutions for any obstacles these could create for you/ your employer.
Tip two: Get advice beforehand from a Trade Union if you have one, fellow carers (such as via our forum) or fellow colleagues you trust.
Tip three: Find out about your employer’s policies around flexible working. See if these are freely available, for example on the staff intranet or request them from your HR department.
Tip four: Discuss your request with your manager or someone from your HR Team.
Follow the guidance here on what else you would need to include as you complete your request form.
You can also find a template form in this section of the Gov.uk website to complete.
There are some big differences between statutory and non-statutory flexible working requests and we’ve summarised these in a table below.
You need to have worked for 26 continuous weeks.
You can make a request at any time.
You can only make one request in a 12-month period.
You can make as many requests as you wish in a 12-month period, unless your employer has a limit.
Your employer legally has to make a decision within three months, unless you agree to an extension.
There is no timeframe within which your employer has to make a decision.
Useful if you wish to make a permanent change to your working pattern.
Useful if you want to make a temporary change to your working pattern, particularly before you make a permanent change.
Refusal of a flexible working request
Your employer can treat your request as withdrawn if you fail to attend two consecutive meetings, without good reason, to discuss the request for flexible working.
Your employer must inform you of their decision to withdraw your application. It’s therefore important that you inform your employer as soon as possible if and why you are not able to attend the meeting.
Your employer has a duty to deal with your request as soon as possible, within a reasonable time and must give careful consideration to your request. Your employer can only refuse your request if they have good business reasons and this should be explained in writing, including relevant and accurate facts.
Your employer must consider and make a decision on your request within three months of receiving it from you, unless you agree to an extension.
The business reasons for refusing a request are:
- burden of additional costs
- inability to reorganise work among existing staff
- inability to recruit additional staff
- detrimental impact on quality or performance
- detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
- insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
- planned structural changes.
Anticipating some of these potential concerns in advance when you are putting across your request could be beneficial, especially if you can explain how they wouldn’t be an issue if questions arise.
If you have strong objections to their decision, you can find out more about resolving the issue on the GOV.UK website.
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Carers UK Trustee Margaret Dangoor shines a light on the importance of supporting former carers.
“I’m not hiding, you just don’t see me” Carers Week blog - Helen Leadbitter
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Carers Week blog - Wendy Chamberlain MP
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