Requesting flexible work

Myth or fact?

More than 85% of Canadian workplaces offer flexible working.
  • Fact
  • Myth

Increasingly, workers in British Columbia are seeing the value in a positive work-life balance. Flexible work can be an option that lets you adjust your work schedule to fit the way you want to live. And these arrangements can benefit your employer as well. Learn more about flexible work and how to request it.

What you should know

Flexible working comes in a variety of flavours

“I live in the suburbs, and my commute to work is usually at least an hour long if I hit rush hour. To avoid this, I requested a flexible work arrangement. My employer agreed, and now I’m starting my day earlier and leaving the office before peak traffic hours. I’ve shaved about 30 minutes off my commute!”

– Bill, Richmond

Flexible working is any work arrangement that’s different from your current one. It’s “flexible” because it allows you to change something about your job to accommodate things outside of work. Some examples of flexible working include:

  • Compressed hours, where you squeeze the same week’s work into fewer days by working longer days. 

  • Job sharing, where two or more people split the responsibilities of a single job. Generally, each party to the arrangement works part-time.

  • Staggered hours, where you start and end your work day at a different time than usual. For example, working 11 to 7 instead of 9 to 5. 

  • Telecommuting, where you work somewhere other than your employer’s place of business — usually using a computer, phone, or mobile application.

Your employer may have a policy on flexible work

Currently, there’s no law in BC requiring employers to make flexible work arrangements available to workers (with some exceptions, explained below). However, many employers are rethinking their workplace practices and moving away from more traditional approaches. Due to this shift, flexible working is becoming more common in BC.

Your employer’s policy on flexible work may be written down somewhere. It could be in a workplace manual or in your employment contract. If there’s nothing in writing, flexible work may be more of an informal workplace practice. 

If you aren’t sure about your employer’s policy on flexible work, you can ask for clarification. If your workplace has a human resources department, direct your question to them. If not, you can ask your employer directly.

You may be able to average your hours of work

For workers covered by the Employment Standards Act, one option for flexible work is to enter into an averaging agreement with your employer. Usually, if you work more than eight hours in one day or 40 hours in one week, your employer has to pay you overtime. Assuming you're entitled to overtime, you can strike an agreement to average your hours over a period of one to four weeks, avoiding overtime that would otherwise be owed. 

You can agree to work more than 40 hours in a particular week or more than eight hours in a particular day. However, over the period of the agreement the hours must not average more than 40 per week. Using an averaging agreement, you can compress your normal number of weekly hours into fewer work days.

Note that not all workers are covered by employment standards law. But even if you aren’t covered your employer may still allow you to work compressed hours. If so, consider asking for the agreement in writing or having it written into your employment contract. 

For more information on averaging agreements, see our guidance on hours of work and overtime.

You may be entitled to take leave from work

If you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act, you’re entitled to take unpaid time off from work in some circumstances. This is referred to as taking leave. Some types of leave that are available to BC employees are:

  • Maternity leave, for workers who need time off due to a pregnancy.

  • Parental leave, for workers who need time off to take care of a newborn child.

  • Sick leave, for workers who can’t work due to personal illness or injury.

  • Family responsibility leave, for workers who need time off to attend to the care, health or education of a family member.

Not all workers are covered by employment standards law. But even if you aren’t covered, your employer may have a policy on taking leave. Generally, this should be included in your employment contract or a workplace manual. 

For more information, including step-by-step guidance on how to request leave, see our information on taking time off work

Your employer has a duty to accommodate your needs

Under BC law, employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers on the basis of certain personal characteristics. If you face a challenge in your workplace due to one of these personal characteristics, your employer has a duty to accommodate you. 

In other words, your employer may have a legal duty to provide you with flexible work conditions to ensure you’re treated fairly. What this might look like in practice depends on your unique situation. Some flexible work arrangements that may be appropriate include:

  • letting you take a leave of absence to get treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction

  • allowing you to work from home (telecommute) while you recover from an injury

  • letting you leave early on Friday afternoons so you can attend religious activities

Your employer’s duty to accommodate you isn’t limitless. They’re only obliged to accommodate you to the point where it causes them “undue hardship.” As well, you have a duty to cooperate with them to find a solution. That means agreeing on a flexible working arrangement that suits both of you. 

For more information, see our guidance on your employer’s duty to accommodate you

Make a request for flexible working

Step 1. Review your employer’s flexible work policy (if applicable)

Make sure you understand your employer’s policy around flexible working. The policy might be written down in a workplace manual or in your employment contract. It could also be unwritten (that is, it could be more of an informal workplace practice). 

If you aren’t sure about your employer’s flexible work policy you can ask them about it. 

Step 2. Decide on the arrangement you’d prefer

Before requesting flexible work, carefully consider what kind of arrangement will work best for you. Some key questions to ask yourself are:

  • What are your existing work arrangements? For example, does your job require face-to-face meetings? Do you interact with members of the public at specific times?

  • How do you prefer to work? For example, are you more productive at certain times of day? Are you self-motivated and able to meet deadlines on your own?

  • What’s the main issue prompting your request? For example, do you need to be home to care for a family member? Do you need to pick up your child from school in the afternoon?

  • How will flexible work affect your finances? For example, is there a minimum amount you need to earn? Do you need to work a certain number of hours?

Flexible work comes in many shapes and sizes (see above). The arrangement you decide on should be tailored to your specific needs and the requirements of your job. 

Consider how your request will affect your co-workers

Before requesting flexible work, consider how your request will affect your co-workers and the work they do. Some of them may have requested flexible work before, and if so, their experience may help you plan your request. 

Step 3. Prepare a written request

First, find out if your employer has a scheme for requesting flexible work. If you’re unsure, check the workplace manual or ask your employer. 

If they don’t have a specific way to submit your request, you can write a letter. In your letter you should:

  • describe the work arrangement you’d prefer and the date on which you’d like it to start

  • explain why you’re making the request

  • explain how the proposed change will affect your employer and your co-workers, and how any issues will be dealt with

Be clear on the changes you want while keeping an open mind and staying flexible and respectful. The arrangement you suggest may not work for your employer, so you may have to meet them halfway. If there’s more than one plan you think could work, describe all options in your letter. Say which one you prefer and why. 

We offer a template letter to request flexible work. We also provide tips for writing an effective letter to your employer

Step 4. Submit your request to your employer

Submit your written request to your employer. Once they receive it, they’ll likely want to discuss it with you. We offer tips for talking with your employer

Common questions

Are BC employers required to provide flexible work options?

In most cases, no. The BC Employment Standards Act doesn’t give workers the right to flexible schedules. But you may have other rights under provincial laws, and you can lean on these to request a more flexible work arrangement. 

For example, employers have a duty to accommodate workers who face challenges in the workplace due to certain personal characteristics. See the “What you should know” section above for more.

Do part-time workers have the same rights as full-time workers?

For the most part, yes. Under the law in BC, there’s no distinction between “full-time” and “part-time” work. The main legislation in BC that protects workers generally applies equally to full- and part-time workers. 

On the other hand, your employer may have their own in-house policy around this. It’s relatively common for employers to provide certain benefits to full-time workers that aren’t available to part-time workers. 

If you were hired part-time but work full-time hours

If you were hired as a “part-time” worker but frequently work more than 40 hours per week, consider discussing the issue with your employer. They may be trying to avoid giving you the benefits full-time workers are entitled to.

How can I prepare to discuss my request for flexible work with my employer?

When you submit a request for flexible work to your employer, they may want to ask you some questions before they agree to it. To strengthen your case, it helps to be prepared. Here are some steps you can take before meeting with your employer to discuss your request:

  • be prepared to explain how the proposed arrangement will improve your job performance

  • be ready to expand on any points you made in your letter

  • anticipate objections your employer may have, and be prepared to counter them

  • be willing to negotiate, or to compromise on an arrangement that’s different than the one you proposed

  • consider asking a co-worker to join you for support (if it’s appropriate and if your employer allows it)

We have some tips for talking with your employer

Who can help

Helpful agencies

BC government logo, for use on cards such as Employment Standards Branch
Employment Standards Branch
The government office that deals with complaints against employers in BC.
BC Human Rights Tribunal logo
BC Human Rights Tribunal
Receives and resolves discrimination complaints under BC law.
BC Human Rights Clinic logo
BC Human Rights Clinic
Provides free assistance and representation to those who qualify for help with a discrimination complaint under BC law.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in October 2020
  • Time to read: 8 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Richard Johnson, Ascent Employment Law and Trevor Thomas, Ascent Employment Law

Richard Johnson
Trevor Thomas

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