These frequently asked questions (FAQs) on flexible working have been created to outline how line managers and employees may respond to common queries and challenges around flexible working.
The questions and answers include information on:
- rights and eligibility
- processes for requesting flexible working
- getting decisions on flexible working requests
- equality and diversity
- the impact of working flexibly.
Please get in touch with us at email@example.com with any additional employer-related queries or challenges that you would like us to answer on our web page. You can also use this mailbox to share with us any updated local policies or to let us know about good practice examples.
Q What has changed? What is available now that wasn't before?
Effective from 13 September 2021, changes to the NHS Terms and Conditions Handbook have been agreed which form part of your employment contract and mean that:
- all employees have the right to request flexible working from day one of employment
- there is no limit on the number of requests you can make
- you have the right to make requests and have them considered regardless of the reason.
Your employer should keep a central overview of how requests in the organisation are being handled so they can check everyone is being treated fairly.
If you and your line manager cannot find a solution, there is a further stage to check for other suitable options that could be considered (perhaps in another team or setting). This is so that you and your line manager are supported to explore all other options.
Employers should provide regular information to staff about flexible working opportunities and encourage regular discussions between managers and staff about flexible working without waiting for staff to make a formal request. This should be done during one-to-one discussions and conversations with teams.
Q If I am already working flexibly, can I put in another request?
Yes, in accordance with the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook, employees covered by these provisions can make more than one flexible working request per year and can do so regardless of the reason. It may be that you need to request a temporary change to your working arrangements which can be discussed informally with your manager. However, if your new flexible working request is for a more formal and permanent change, it will be considered by your manager in accordance with local policy.
In cases where it is not possible to accommodate your request within the immediate team, a further process will be followed if you wish to explore further options within the organisation.
Q Do day one rights apply to me if I am in a probationary period?
Yes. The contractual right to request flexible working is from day one of employment. It applies to all NHS staff whose terms and conditions of service are covered by the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook.
Q Is flexible working open to staff not covered by the NHS terms and conditions?
In legislation, all employees have a right to request flexible working but there is currently a requirement that they have been employed by their employer for at least 26 weeks and that they have not made any other flexible working request in the last 12 months.
Consultation is currently being undertaken about flexible working legislation in the UK. If you are employed by a private contractor and work on NHS premises, you will need to check your employer’s flexible working provisions.
The ambitions in the people plan highlight the desire to make flexible working available to all, regardless of role, grade or organisation, and organisations should look to support working flexibility for all staff.
Q I put in a request to work flexibly earlier this year, which was denied, can I put in another one?
Yes, if your terms and conditions of service are covered by the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook, you can make more than one flexible working request in a year. Your needs and the needs of the service can change over time, and you have a right to make a formal flexible working request for any reason. Following full exploration of your request, if it is not possible to accommodate your request within your immediate team an escalation process will be followed if you wish to explore any further options that may be possible within the organisation.
Q I don’t see the point in asking my manager as I feel that they will say no, what should I do?
All NHS staff have a right to ask for flexible working, and for formal request for flexible working to be properly considered including rights of appeal. You should also have the chance to discuss your work/life balance through your health and wellbeing conversations.
We encourage you to think about the work life balance that you would like to achieve and the potential flexible working arrangements that could help you do this. It’s also worth thinking about what some of the benefits might be to your team and wider organisation of your proposed pattern. By preparing for some of the questions your line manager may ask you, it will help you to have a better conversation. If you are nervous or uncomfortable about submitting a formal request to your manager, you should consider asking to first discuss possibilities and options informally with your manager and/or seeking support from a trade union representative or work colleague. It is worth noting that your manager has to consider your request properly and, if they are not able to agree to the arrangements you request, there is a further escalation stage in place to check for other suitable options.
It may be that in your current work context, your manager might not be able to agree your request but there are alternatives available to explore. For example, there may be other teams within your organisation that would consider and agree your request. New arrangements mean that managers should be open to considering this.
Q Should I talk informally to my manager to request flexible working or go straight to a formal request?
We encourage staff to talk informally with their line managers initially. Having conversations as a line manager within your teams are also valuable to help find solutions and accommodate team needs. Significant changes (for instance those with contractual impacts, e.g. moving to annualise hours or going part time) are expected to go through the proper formal process to ensure all the details are agreed and captured.
Q How do I apply to work flexibly, and does it have to be in writing?
The NHS Staff Council has created a flexible working request flowchart which details the steps line managers and staff in the NHS should take when making a request for a flexible working arrangement. It is also important to look at your organisation’s local policy on flexible working, which should set out a process on how to make flexible working requests. If you are not sure or have any questions, speak to your local HR team or trade union representative to seek advice and guidance.
Q How long does my flexible working request take to be decided?
The legislation allows a three-month timescale from a formal request being recieved to the end of process including appeal, unless an extension is agreed by the employee and their line manager.
Q What is the deadline for managers to respond to a flexible working request?
This depends on local policies. Make sure you are familiar with the local policies, managers should advise on this and explain next steps.
Q If it is not possible for my request to be accepted in my current role, what are my options?
If your request cannot initially be agreed in your current role, ask your manager if there are other opportunities in the organisation where your request might be agreed.
You might also consider if there are any other alternative patterns that will enable you to achieve flexible working, or whether there are parts of your request that could be agreed. Speak to your manager to consider areas you would be interested to work in on a flexible basis.
If after the escalation phase (where your manager refers your request for wider consideration within the organisation) your request gets declined, written reasons must be provided and you can consider whether you would like to make an appeal.
Q My flexible working request has been denied, what can I do?
Before turning down a request, you and your manager should have discussed the escalation stage. Your manager should keep you updated on your request and discuss your potential options and opportunities elsewhere.
If your manager has not initially been able to agree your request, your employer should communicate this to you and discuss other alternatives including any opportunities for you to work flexibly elsewhere in your organisation.
If the escalation phase has not led to a solution and your request is declined, you can consider whether you would like to make an appeal.
Q) I have a disability and need flexible working as a reasonable adjustment, what’s the best way to ask for this?
Flexible working can be a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010, so it is a good idea to make sure your employer is aware that this is the reason you are making a request as it is an additional statutory right on top of the contractual right set out in the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service (TCS) Handbook. Your organisation’s flexible working policy should encourage you to identify if your request is to facilitate a reasonable adjustment (para 33.13 of the TCS). Follow your local organisation’s procedure for flexible working applications. The application will normally include a question such as ‘Are you making your request as a reasonable adjustment for a disability?’ It will also normally involve setting out:
- some background to your request
- your current work pattern and your ideas for how your proposed work pattern could be accommodated.
Q) I am coming back from maternity leave and would like to work flexibly – what should I do?
Section 15 of the NHS Terms and Conditions Handbook covers flexible working on return from maternity leave:
15.79 If, at the end of maternity, adoption, or shared parental leave, the employee wishes to return to work on different hours, the NHS employer has a duty to facilitate this, wherever possible.
15.80 If it is agreed that the employee will return to work on a flexible basis, including changed or reduced hours, for an agreed temporary period, this will not affect the employee’s right to return to their job under their original contract, at the end of the agreed period.
If you want to start working flexibly on your return to work from maternity leave, it is worth thinking about the time frames set out in your local policy. It is advisable to submit your request three or four months before you want the new arrangements to come into effect, particularly if you need to dovetail in with other arrangements such as childcare.
Q) How do the new policies and request forms support those with disabilities?
The new NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook provisions promote flexible working as key to improved health and wellbeing through achieving a more positive work/life balance. There is a section on encouraging flexible working, including through promoting the right to request, including through job adverts, encouraging open conversations about flexible working at one-to-ones, wellbeing conversations, appraisals etc.
As part of the development of your local flexible working policy an equality assessment should have looked to see if any groups of staff (including disabled staff) may be (even inadvertently) excluded. Policies will then be designed to be inclusive and supportive of disabled staff right from their development. The policy will then be monitored and reviewed considering protected characteristics including disability.
The request form should be accessible for all staff to use, and it should make provision for staff to identify that they consider their request is a reasonable adjustment in respect of a disability. It may even cross reference and link to other relevant policies such as the disability policy.
Q) Can I request to work from home as a form of flexible working?
Yes, homeworking can be a form of flexible working. Before making a formal request to work flexibly from home, you may want to consider initially having an informal conversation with your manager about this.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may already have been able to work from home. You may want to discuss with your employer whether you could do this on a more regular or permanent basis.
The NHS Staff Council is currently working to develop further guidance on homeworking, in the meantime we encourage staff to check your local policy to find more information on homeworking in your organisation.
You and your manager may want to discuss your working from home on a full-time basis or a hybrid basis - for example for a number of days a week, or on an ad hoc basis.
If it is agreed for you to work from home, you may need to complete a work-station assessment, check your local policy for more information.
It is the individual’s responsibility to notify the employer / organisation of any changes to their home office environment or personal health that may affect their health and safety. You may also like to consider the advantages and disadvantages to a more permanent arrangement in terms of the equipment you will need, and the financial implications, for example a reduction in commuting costs, but an increase in heat or lighting costs. You will need to be clear about the requirement to come into the office and other places of work for regular meetings etc.
Q) Could working flexibly affect my pay and annual leave?
Basic pay and annual leave entitlements are based on whether or not an individual works ‘full time’ for instance 37.5 hours a week. Take a look at the contractual implications of your new working pattern once your request has been processed.
If you are working less than 37.5 hours, your basic pay, annual leave and public holiday entitlement will be reduced proportionately. Your overall pay may change if your new flexible working pattern changes the number of unsocial hours you are undertaking. In addition, if your contractual hours are fewer than 37.5 hours, any overtime you work is paid at plain time up to 37.5 hours. Any overtime hours worked by full-time employees will be paid at the relevant premium rate as detailed in the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook.
You can seek further help and advice from your trade union rep and/or HR team.
Q) If I work flexibly, could it impact my learning and development opportunities?
This should not be the case. As an employee, you will still have access to learning and development (L&D) opportunities. If you are working flexibly or less than 37.5 hours and an L&D opportunity occurs on a day/time that you do not work, there should be a discussion with you as to how this can be accommodated. This should be the same for stretch and promotion opportunities.