Thousands of employees across the UK have been working from home during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

While the adjustment to remote working and being at home during the day might have been a challenge at the start of lockdown, it’s become the norm for many people – and one they may be reluctant to leave behind.

Many feel they are more productive in their own working environment and enjoy being in familiar surroundings, while others crave the office environment and the daily commute.

Returning to the office may not be on the cards until 2021 for many employees under the current pandemic guidance, but if and when that happens, they should be aware that they can officially ask to continue working from home on a more permanent basis.

Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, for example having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working - not just parents and carers.

This is known as ‘making a statutory application’.

To be able to do this, an employee must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible.

What your employer must do if you put in a request

Employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’.

The official guidance on the GOV.UK website gives examples of this as being:

An employer can refuse an application if they have a good business reason for doing so.

However, if an employer does not handle a request in a ‘reasonable manner’, the employee can take them to an employment tribunal.

There are different types of flexible working that can be requested.

The GOV.UK website lists these as including:

More than 54,000 employees working from home have already applied for a tax break from HMRC

How to apply for flexible working

Employees can apply for flexible working if they’ve worked continuously for the same employer for the last 26 weeks. This is known as ‘making a statutory application’ and it’s important to note that the GOV.UK website states that “employees can only make one application for flexible working a year.”

The basic application steps are:

  1. The employee writes to the employer

  2. The employer considers the request and makes a decision within three months - or longer if agreed with the employee

  3. If the employer agrees to the request, they must change the terms and conditions in the employee’s contract

  4. If the employer disagrees, they must write to the employee giving the business reasons for the refusal. The employee may be able to complain to an employment tribunal

Writing to your employer

An employee should email or write a letter to their employer.

Some employers may not accept this and ask employees to use a standard company form issued through their HR Department.

What the email or letter must include

Your application must include:

If an employee changes their mind about making a request they should tell their employer in writing that they want to withdraw their application.

There are two possible outcomes to any request – an agreement or a rejection. 

If your employer agrees to your application, they will write to you formally accepting the request. 

This will include:

They should also change your employment contract to include the new terms and conditions

This should be done as soon as possible but no later than 28 days after the request was approved.

If the request for flexible working is rejected, your employer must formally tell you that they’ve rejected your application.

Financial help available in Scotland

Reasons for rejecting an application 

The GOV.UK website states that employers can reject an application for any of the following reasons:

Making an appeal

Employees no longer have a statutory right to an appeal, however, offering an appeals process helps to demonstrate that the employer is handling requests in a ‘reasonable manner’.

For more details and further information on making an application, download the Acas Code of Practice on flexible working requests here. 

You can also visit the dedicated section on the GOV.Uk website here.