The right to request flexible working was introduced in 2003 and updated in 2007. It currently applies to parents or carers and spouses of parents or carers of children under the age of six (or 18 if the child is disabled) and to carers of certain adults. In this last case, the employee must be caring for a spouse, partner or relative, or living in the same house as the adult cared for.

Suggestions to extend the right to all parents of children under the age of 16 could become law next April.

The right to request places an obligation on an employer to consider any such request seriously. A simple “no” isn’t enough – there has to be a valid business case as to why flexible work is not an option for the employee concerned. The type of work the employee does might not be suited to homeworking, for example.

The onus is on the employee to provide a comprehensive application well in advance of when they want it to take effect.

The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR) has identified eight business grounds for refusing a request. These are:

    The burden of additional costs;

    A detrimental effect on the company’s ability to meet customer demand;
    The inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
    The inability to recruit additional staff;
    A detrimental impact on quality;
    A detrimental impact on performance;
    Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work;
    Planned structural changes.

Employees who aren’t eligible for the right can request flexible working and it is up to the employer whether or not to consider it. However, there are many potential benefits to both employer and employee when flexible working is taken seriously.