Flexible work can be a great help to working mothers, and laws are in place to help you get it. Here are a few tips on how to make it difficult for your boss to say no
Sometimes having a job makes it hard to be a parent. You might need to leave early to pick your kids up from nursery. You might need to come in late so you can wait for the nanny to arrive. You might even want to work from home so you can look after your baby from time to time.
The law in the UK is on your side. Because you’re a caregiver, you have a legal right to ask your employer for flexible work hours. You could work part time, agree cover or even job share with a colleague. Some people request compressed hours, which basically means working full time over fewer days.
But first, consider if life really will be easier if you could work from home or choose your hours. You might struggle to concentrate with your baby around, or would eagerness to please leave you overcompensating for your odd hours so you end up even more knackered?
Convinced it’s for you? Here’s how to get it…
So how do I ask?
Your request must be in writing but, if you get on well with your employer, have a chat beforehand so they don’t feel blindsided when they receive your letter. It’s really important to go to your employer with a good idea of how it would work for them as well as you, rather than saying you need to work flexibly and getting them to work out the details. Be confident and know your rights. Even think about suggesting a trial period to see if it works.
Luckily, the law in the UK is on your side. Because you’re a caregiver, you have a legal right to ask your employer for flexible work hours
When is a good time to ask?
If you’re on maternity leave, you have a right to ask as soon as you have your baby. ‘Make sure you leave enough time as if your request isn’t accepted straight away the process of requesting, meetings, discussions and appeals can take up to three months,’ says Liz Gardiner, head of policy for Working Families.
Why might your employer refuse your request for flexible work?
Because it wouldn’t work in practice.
The law is that you can request flexible working if you have children or someone to look after, and if your request is workable, they can’t refuse you just because they feel like it. However, if you work in a shop and you’re responsible for opening up, it’s obviously impractical for you to ask to start at 11am. However, if your request would work and your employer refuses simply because they don’t feel like shaking things up, they’re breaking the law. So make the request as reasonable and practical as possible.
Because there’d be a significant cost involved
It could be costly setting you up at home, for example. If your case ever went to appeal, they would weigh up their costs against the disadvantage to you if you continue working standard hours. Also, there’ll be costs involved if you leave and they have to replace you.
If you’re on maternity leave, you have a right to ask for flexible working hours as soon as you have your baby
Can they just ignore your request?
No. By law your employer has to respond within 28 days with a meeting to discuss the request, and must get back to you within 14 days with a decision.
Although it’s by no means the first step if you want to stay on good terms with your employer, if you feel you’re being fobbed off you can take your employer to a tribunal. A tribunal judge can rule that your employer is treating you unfairly and have them award you compensation.
Know your rights
If you have to, diplomatically point out your rights to your boss. ‘Not all employers know every bit of employment legislation,’ says Liz. ‘It’s best to be informed about your legal rights, and let them know if needs be. Some employers absolutely understand the benefits of flexible working, but there are many workplaces it has not yet reached, or just isn’t appropriate.’ It might be nerve-wracking and a big change, but the law is on your side when it comes to mum-friendly work.
Find out more about flexible work at Working Families