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Back-to-work

Flexible working after having a baby

If you need to change the hours you work to suit childcare, you can make a request for flexibility and your employer has a duty to consider your request

Child-friendly hours at work

Your rights when asking for child friendly hours

Woman walking into office with coffee

Going back to work after maternity leave is not a decision anyone takes lightly. You need to weigh up the pros and cons - but the reality is about six in ten of us with children aged three and under are working outside of the home - through choice or necessity.

However, it’s one thing returning to the workforce - it’s another having to do the same hours that you put in pre-baby when you only had yourself and your partner to worry about. Then you may have been happy to be at your desk by 8am sharp and put in a couple of hours’ overtime but it can be a lot harder with baby in tow.

If you need to change the hours you work to fit in with childcare arrangements then you can request flexible hours. And the good news is your company has a duty to consider your request for flexible hours in a reasonable manner and cannot discriminate against you. 

Do I have the right to ask for flexible work?

As long as you have been employed for at least 26 weeks by the time you make the request, everyone - even trainees and apprentices - has a legal right to seek a change to their hours. However, if you make a request, you cannot make a second one within a year - whether it was granted or refused.

What changes can I ask for?

Your employer is not obliged to find you a different job - but you can seek to change your hours, days or place where you do your current job. You can ask for part-time, term-time or flexi-time hours - or to work at home.

Can my employer refuse my request?

In a word, yes. Although they have a duty to consider your request, you can be turned down for business reasons so think about how you’ll respond to challenges over some of the reasons why you might be refused::
a. Costs of the changes to the company
b. Insufficient staff to cover 
c. Detrimental effect on quality, performance or on the ability to meet customer demand
d. Insufficient work available during the hours you are requesting to work or
e. Planned structural changes in the company.

If you are refused for business reasons, the company should explain why this is the case. A decision should be provided within three months of the date of your application unless a longer period was agreed between you.

How to ask for child friendly hours

Give your employer time to consider your request - don’t call them a week before you are due back from maternity leave. Make the request in writing, stating that you are looking for flexible work and the pattern of days or hours you are seeking - and when you want it to start. Explain any effect you think the new working arrangement will have on your employer, particularly if you can ‘sell’ the idea to them (for example, suggest a job-share with a colleague who is keen on a similar arrangement). Companies are far more likely to agree to a change in shift patterns if you can convince them that the bottom line will not change and that you will continue to be a productive employee. Happier staff make better workers and all that…

What happens next?

Once your employer receives the request in writing, they should meet you to discuss it and provide a decision within a reasonable length of time - which will also allow you time to appeal if you are not happy with their decision. You can take a work colleague to the meeting if you wish but as a courtesy notify your employer if you intend to do this.

If, for any reason, you cannot attend the meeting, arrange another one speedily. If you do not attend two meetings or appeals, an employer is entitled to consider the application withdrawn.

If you are due to return to work and your employer has still not made a decision - providing you made the request three months previously, you should write to your employer and let them know that are you are planning to return but need a decision to be made promptly on your request.

Flexible working after having a baby