Can I work flexible hours when I return from maternity leave?

Many new mothers would like to return to work on a part-time basis, and some good employers are happy to negotiate such new terms with their employees. There is no automatic right to reduce hours, or to work part-time or flexibly after having a baby. However all employees with at least 26 weeks’ service have the right to ask to work flexibly, and the request can only be rejected after careful consideration and for one of a list of business reasons. 

Acas has produced a Code of Practice and guidance on Handling Requests for Flexible Working (PDF, 163KB). See our Flexible Working section for tips on making a request to work flexibly. 

If your request to work flexibly on your return to work after maternity leave is rejected, you may have rights under the Equality Act 2010, which outlaws sex discrimination

You should check your contract or your staff handbook, talk to your trade union representatives and (where appropriate) your HR Department to ensure that you get access to all that your employer offers in this area. 

You may want to return to work flexibly on a temporary basis to make it easier to continue breastfeeding. 

Under EU law, an employer must make adequate arrangements for breastfeeding at work. An employer that does not do this risks being found to have engaged in direct sex discrimination, following the European Court of Justice ruling of Otero-Ramos v Servicio Gallego de Saude [2017]. 

Remember too that if you return to work part-time after having worked full-time before going on maternity leave, you will have accrued annual leave during your maternity leave on a full-time basis. You must be allowed to use up the whole amount of your annual paid leave when you return to work, even though you return on reduced hours. 

Also, if you return to work part-time after having worked full-time before going on maternity leave, you have the right not be treated less favourably because of your new part-time status. As long as the job is basically the same, you can compare your part-time terms with the terms you enjoyed as a full-time worker. Your employer will have to provide a reasonable explanation that justifies any difference. 

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.

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