Flexible Working After Maternity Leave


I’m on maternity leave and don’t think I can go back to work full time, what can I do as I don’t want to lose my job?

Flexible working has become much more common and more acceptable now that many of us have been working from home or doing Flexi-hours since we have been in and out of lockdowns. However, some employers are still stuck on “presenteeism”, welded to “full time or nothing” and entrenched in sexist views that part-time workers (who are mostly women) are flaky, less committed and in worst cases, taking the proverbial. This is often borne out of envy for better working lives, and out of a lack of trust.

I wrote this article to help women prepare for and hopefully succeed in getting flexible or part-time working agreed by their employers. After all, we are worth it, right!

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First of all, get your ducks in a row.

Get your plans for childcare sorted. Will you be using family, arranging shifts or working days around your partner to share childcare, using a nursery, nanny, or childminder?

Once you have an idea about what childcare you can access and for how many hours a week, that will help you plan how you approach your employer.

If you already have children, it might be cheaper to get a live-out nanny or share a nanny with another family rather than paying for multiple children with a childminder or nursery. You might only need wraparound care for older children, but equally, you might be stuck home-schooling for a while yet, even on and off during 2021.

Don’t forget if you reduce your working hours, you will also lose holiday entitlement and pay on a pro-rata basis.

Work out what you can afford.

You might have an idea about how many hours or days you would like to work each week, but have you run the numbers for different scenarios? I am a big fan of a budget spreadsheet. Add in your partner’s income (if you have one), any child maintenance you receive, child benefit, nominal wages for your ideal scenario, and any other income.

Then list all of your outgoings into 2 categories: essential and nice-to-have. Don’t forget to factor in childcare costs if you aren’t going to use free family help/share with your partner.

Play around with the figures and see what luxuries you can do without, and also what work-related expenses you will save on by working fewer hours. Don’t rely on not having travel costs whilst we are in the pandemic if you can work from home because we simply don’t know what the future holds. Run several different working income scenarios through the spreadsheet and see how much better off you would be working 4 days per week instead of 2 or 3 for example.

Don’t forget to include any tax credits/universal credit you might be entitled to, and you can run examples through this excellent calculator.


Before you raise any of this with your employer, think about what would work as a practical option work-wise. Don’t give them easy ways to say No or even to view it negatively. Consider, for example, if job-sharing would work for your role, whether a combination of working from home and in the office could work out, if there are important meetings or site visits on particular days then factor that in, and look at what other resources your employer has to fill any gaps. Think about asking for compressed hours (5 days work across 4 longer days), or term time working, or spreading hours across the week. These are just some ideas, as every job and sector is different.

Check out if your employer has a policy on flexible working. It can usually be found in the staff handbook if there is one. See what it says and use it in your planning.

What I am saying is, if you go to your employer with a well-thought-out plan, where you have anticipated any objections, then it will be more difficult for them to refuse.

Important Note: Read the list of potential reasons for refusal in 'formal request' below and have answers ready for all of them in advance.

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Talk to your employer

OK, so you have done all the planning and now it is time to approach your employer to ask them. I recommend you initially do this informally and see what they say. You can always move on to a formal request if that does not work. So, just sound them out and get an idea as to whether they are up for it or not. Use all the information from your research and planning to show that it is a great idea. Some points you can use:

  • Part time workers can be more efficient because they have to fit everything into a short time frame, so no time is wasted messing about chatting with colleagues and discussing the weather every morning!
  • The employer will probably get more value out of you than your limited hours (sad but true). So if you worked 3 days a week, you would probably end up fitting 4 days of work into those 3 days.
  • Part time workers can be more productive, as they are often ultra keen to prove their worth.
  • Flexible working is better for your mental health. And if you are happier at work, you will be a better worker, more loyal, etc.
  • How much they have invested in your training for example, so they should want to retain you and get value for their money!
  • If your employer is a bit “old school”, then show them examples where their competitors foster flexible working practices, or find some articles online about the benefits of flexible working.
  • Have in mind a trial period to see if it works well, both for you and your employer, so you can review it and tweak the arrangements if necessary.
  • Point your employer to their relevant policy (if they have one) especially if it has fluffy wording in it that says they “welcome applications”, “value part time workers”, “practice equality” etc. If they have said it, use it!

I’m going to repeat this again because it is SO important! Read the list of potential reasons for refusal at the point below and have answers ready for all of them in advance.

Formal Request

If you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks, you can make a written statutory request for flexible working. You might want to do this first, or after an informal request if they haven’t seemed keen.

The procedure is set out here and there is guidance from ACAS. ACAS has also issued a code of practice for employers and I recommend a read. It is quite a simple process.

  • You must make the request in writing setting out what you are asking for and from what date.
  • You must include what effects it would have on your employer and how those could be addressed.
  • Don’t forget to date your request if it is a letter.
  • You must also state whether you have made a request before and when you did that (you can only make one formal request in a 12 month period).

Important note: you must also state the following words “I am making a statutory flexible working request under section 80F of the Employment Rights Act 1996”.

There is a free template letter here that you can use as a basis for your application.

Your employer can just agree it, or can hold a meeting to discuss it with you. You don’t have a strict right to take a colleague or trade union rep to the meeting, but it would be good practice to allow you to do so. If your request is refused, you must be told why and it must be in writing.

There is a finite list of potential reasons for refusal:

  • It will be too costly
  • They cannot reorganise work amongst other staff
  • They cannot recruit extra staff
  • It would cause a negative effect on quality
  • It would cause a negative effect on performance
  • It would a negative effect on their ability to meet customer demand
  • There is insufficient work for you during the periods you propose to work
  • There are planned structural changes to the business and your request will not fit with these plans

Important note: Your employer must consider your request and act reasonably throughout.

Your employer should give you the right of appeal if they refuse all or part of your request. The whole process should be completed within 3 months.

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Finally: Good Luck!

If your employer is progressive, or simply just sensible, practical and inclusive, then they will view your request as a good way to keep you as an employee and make the best of your skills, and will work with you to “make it work” Tim Gunn style!

If however your employer is too stuck in their ways and entrenched in traditional working practices to see the benefits, then you may want to appeal their decision. You may also decide you cannot return to work because this badly affects the relationship between you or you just cannot arrange childcare for full-time hours (or don’t want to). If this is the case then you should seek some legal advice about your options. I have pursued many cases for sex discrimination for clients in these circumstances.

Also, stay tuned for my next blog on how to make a successful appeal, or at least one that enhances your legal position if you want to seek redress.

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