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Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.

Flexible working and annual leave

During your pregnancy
Pregnancy at work

What you need to know


Flexible working and annual leave

What type of changes to my working pattern can I request?

You can ask to change:
  • the hours you work, for example reducing the hours
  • the time you work, for example a later start or earlier finish, and
  • location of work environment, for example to working from home for one day a week or a few hours each day.

When should I ask my employer about changing my working pattern?

If you are sure you want to work part-time or change your working pattern after your return from maternity leave, you may want to discuss this early to allow you to arrange childcare and your employer to make plans to cover your work.

If you are not certain that you want to change your working pattern, it is advisable to wait before asking for a permanent change in your hours. Your circumstances may alter after your baby is born.

Can my employer treat me badly or make me redundant if I ask to change my hours?

Your employer is legally required not to treat you badly as a result of your request to change your working hours. For example, if you were not promoted or were made redundant because you asked to change your working pattern, that might be indirect sex discrimination.

Can I apply to change my working hours or working patterns when pregnant?

If you have been employed for 26 weeks or more you have the legal right to request flexible working. If you have been working for your employer for fewer than 26 weeks, you can still make a request which may be considered by your employer.

Your employer can refuse a request under the formal right to request procedure for one of the eight reasons set out below:

  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
  • an inability to re-organise work among existing staff;
  • an inability to recruit additional staff;
  • a detrimental impact on quality;
  • a detrimental impact on performance;
  • the insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work;
  • planned structural changes to the business, and,
  • the burden of additional cost.

A refusal may be indirect sex discrimination. Indirect sex discrimination is where there is a provision, such as full-time working applied to everyone, which particularly disadvantages women compared to men, and which the employer cannot show is necessary for the business. It is good practice for your employer to consider carefully whether the job could be done in the hours or pattern requested by you.


Can I be made redundant because I went part-time before going on maternity leave?

If you are made redundant because you work part-time this is likely to be indirect sex discrimination unless your employer can show that the job requires a full-time worker. If you are made redundant for a genuine business reason, your redundancy payment is likely to be based on your part-time hours.

What is the procedure for making a flexible working request?

An informal discussion with your employer may lead to an agreement about a different work pattern. If an informal discussion does not lead to an agreement, and you have been employed by the employer for more than 26 weeks, you can make a request under the statutory right to request procedure.

You must make a formal written, dated application setting out:

  • The proposed change to working conditions and date of proposed change.
  • The effect of the change on the work and how to minimise the impact of the change. 
  • A statement that you are making a statutory request with details of previous applications.

If the change is because of a disability, or to care for a child or dependant, you should say this, so it can be taken into account. Unreasonable refusal of flexible working may be sex discrimination or disability discrimination, including associative disability discrimination. 

Please see the procedures as set out in guidance published by the Equality Commission NI and the Labour Relations Agency:


If my employer agrees to my flexible working request will the change be permanent?

Yes, it will usually be a permanent change to your employment contract unless you ask for it to be on a temporary basis and your employer agrees.

Is it discrimination for my employer to refuse my request for flexible working?

If your request for flexible working is refused without a good business reason this might be indirect sex discrimination.

Indirect sex discrimination is where an employer applies a provision, criterion or practice to both women and men that puts women at a particular disadvantage compared to men and is not necessary for the business.

What annual leave am I entitled to when pregnant and still at work?

You are entitled to take your normal annual leave, whether the statutory minimum of 28 days including bank holidays (pro-rated if you are part-time) or contractual holiday, during the period you are still at work. It is advisable to discuss with your employer when you might take the holiday that builds up during your maternity leave, as it may be possible to take some of this before you go on leave.

Am I entitled to build up annual leave during my maternity leave?

Yes, you continue to be entitled to annual leave for the period you are on maternity leave. The minimum is 28 days in the year including bank holidays (pro-rated if you are part-time) but your employment contract may provide for longer. Work out how much annual leave you have left for the current year and how much you want to take before going on maternity leave.

Refusal to allow you to take the annual leave you have built up during your maternity leave might be pregnancy or maternity discrimination.

Can I take annual leave while I am on maternity leave?

No, you cannot take annual leave and maternity leave at the same time. If you are on annual leave when your baby is born, your maternity leave will start on that day and your annual leave will finish. This may give you additional annual leave to take at the end of your maternity leave instead.

Refusal to allow you to take the annual leave you have built up during your maternity leave might be pregnancy or maternity discrimination.
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