It can feel like the final stumbling block to overcome when you are getting ready to return to work. You have found the childcare, after weeks of meetings and research; sorted out your outfit or uniforms and then you get the rug pulled from under you. You have been told your employer can’t accommodate your flexible working request. Panic stations. What do you do now?
Your reaction to this will have a lot to do with how you feel about your employer, the job and your personal circumstances. A knee-jerk reaction may be to feel like you must resign; that you have been backed into a corner and there is no other option. Whilst I am not an Employment Lawyer, I have experience of working with and supporting parents through this process, so wanted to share some inside knowledge with you.
It is not necessarily the end of the road when you get a “No”, but it is something you need to be strategic about. Are you ready? It may take a bit of strength, but I know you can do it!
The most important thing to remember is that currently, there are only a few valid reasons why an employer can refuse your flexible working request. According to the Citizens Advice, these are:
- Planned structural changes
- The burden of additional costs
- Quality or standards can suffer
- They won’t be able to recruit additional staff
- Performance will suffer
- Won’t be able to reorganise work amongst existing staff
- Will struggle to meet customer demand
- Lack of work during the periods you propose to work
If it hasn’t happened already, ask for a meeting to discuss your flexible working request. The best practice is that you have a conversation around your proposal; the process is a negotiation around your working conditions. You must remember that whilst everyone who has been employed for more than 26 weeks has the right to request flexible working, it currently isn’t an automatic “Yes”. This meeting may lead to a compromise that isn’t possible if you do it all over email. So INSIST on a meeting.
What can you do if your flexible working request is denied?
You can appeal
The phrase may sound a bit dramatic, but on a simple level, this is a meeting to discuss WHY it is has been rejected. This can be an opportunity to discuss a compromise position – it is that some vital information has been missing in the application or there is an opportunity to look at it at another point? There are occasions that a new flexible working agreement is created following an appeal; regardless of how informal it is, you have the right to bring someone with you.
You can apply again later
Currently, you can put in one request in any 12-month period as long as you have been employed by the company for 26-weeks or more. There is a chance to apply again in the future. This may not help you right now, but it isn’t a once in a life-time opportunity. During this period, if circumstances allow, can you trial your proposal through using annual leave? Don’t forget you do accrue your leave whilst you are off on parental leave.
You can ask for support
So often parents carry the burden of everything and the kitchen sink on our shoulders. If the flexible working request has been denied, then how can you delegate your responsibilities outside of the day job? You don’t have to DO everything. In fact, regardless of your working conditions, it’s time you shared the mental workload to get a healthy work-life balance.
You can look for another job
If the role and its conditions are not working for you, are there options to look for another opportunity across the company? If your Manager doesn’t value your skills and experience, maybe there is another person that would. Be upfront during your application about your need for flexible working.
You can find another company
Sometimes you may need to spread your career wings to find the opportunity that gives you’re the career and work-life balance you deserve. It may not feel like it at the moment, but there ARE a range of organisations that provide flexible opportunities. If you are due to return to work after parental leave, then make sure you check out your policy to see if you have to pay back any of your parental leave pay should you resign.
You can put in a complaint
If you feel like you haven’t been treated correctly or fairly you DO have the right to put in a formal complaint. If you have appealed and feel that is hasn’t been handled properly, other options may be your company’s internal grievance procedure, speak to your trade union or make a claim through an employment tribunal. To find out more look at the ACAS site or Pregnant then Screwed.
Ultimately, your work-life balance and well-being should be an integral part of your career. Whilst flexible working can be needed for practical reasons, such as childcare, it is much, much more than this! You do have options and choices; make sure you know WHAT you need, and then work with supportive people to find it.