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Tribunals accept that employers may reject requests for flexible working following maternity leave.

Tribunals accept that employers may reject requests for flexible working following maternity leave.

In two recent unsuccessful cases, employment tribunals accepted that there is no absolute obligation on employers to accept new mothers’ requests to work flexibly on their return from maternity leave and that it is not unreasonable for an employer to put its own interests above those of the employee when considering a flexible working request.

In one such case, a designer asked her employer to reduce her hours on her return from maternity leave. Her employer accepted her request to reduce her hours but turned down her request to work those hours from home (apart from occasional office visits) and to do most of her work in the evenings (after 6pm).

The employee subsequently brought tribunal claims for breaches of the flexible working legislation, constructive dismissal and indirect sex discrimination but an employment tribunal rejected all her claims, stressing that there is no right to work flexibly, only a right to request to work flexibly.

In a second case, an employment tribunal held that it was not indirect sex discrimination for an investment banking firm to require a mother to work full time after an employee had requested part time working hours. The employer had made a number of compromise suggestions but agreement could not be reached.

The tribunal concluded that the employer’s stated aim, to “ensure that its partners and clients receive high-quality, efficient secretarial support throughout the week, without problematic hand-overs”, was legitimate. It also found that the employer’s means of achieving its aim were proportionate and that the disadvantage caused to the claimant was outweighed by the needs of the business.

When an employee requests flexible working hours employers should follow the ACAS “Code of practice on handling requests to work flexibly”, which can be viewed on the ACAS website www.acas.org.uk. As long as the employer’s approach is not discriminatory, they can reject a flexible working request on one of the specified grounds under the legislation.

If you would like further information or advice on flexible working legislation or any other aspect of Employment Law, please contact Chris Wiper on 01325 466461 or email chris.wiper@close-thornton.co.uk

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