Employer is forcing me to go back full time, but my child has mental health issues

I was working full time up to 2017 when my daughter needed treatment for mental health issues. She needed many appointments and is often sent home from school and has now been diagnosed as autistic. I was always made to feel like it was a nuisance to take any time out. I was furloughed during Covid and her needs got greater. When I returned to work I was only on three days initially. My daughter had another crisis and I was told to take as long as I needed. I secured some help for my daughter and  asked if I could return part time with the prospect of going back full time when things got easier. I was forced to pick up an extra day in January because they were losing staff , which left me one day to attend the multitude of appointments with my daughter.  I have now been asked if I could start working full time. I wrote a letter respectfully declining the offer and stating why. I got pulled into the office and my boss declared I was on a full-time contract and they had been understanding and couldn’t I work around the appointments. They told me to get my daughter more support, stop pandering to her and to  exaggerate her symptoms so that I can get transport to and from these appointments and to also seek help for myself. I haven’t worked full time since March 2020. Is this something that can be forced on me? What are my rights?

Employee Rights Employment Equality Job Businessman Corporate Co - shift patterns

 

It is difficult to fully advise without sight of the relevant employment contract documentation, but the first step would be to establish the contractual position. Arguably, whilst you were originally contracted on a full-time basis, your contract has been varied over the years and your current terms are four days a week, albeit you do state that this agreement was with a view to you returning to increasing your hours when things improved, which indicates an expectation on the part of both parties that the aim is to revert to the position pre- furlough when you were working full time. It is therefore not clear that this was intended as a permanent change of working hours. However, your circumstances have changed and you are not in a position to revert to full-time working. If you are wanting to obtain a permanent change to your working hours then you could consider submitting a flexible working application.

However, the manner in which you describe your employer is handling is (irrespective of what may be in your written contract or whether there is an agreement that you would return to full time working when things improved) may give rise to the issue of whether your employer is in breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence in the light of their recent treatment of you, in which case you could consider submitting a grievance. One of the outcomes that you would be wanting to achieve from this would be certainty over your hours of work. If your grievance cannot be resolved to your satisfaction, then you should take advice at that stage as to your options and consider whether you have grounds at that stage to resign and claim constructive dismissal.

Additionally, if your daughter has a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010, you may have a claim for associated discrimination. The requirement to insist on you working full time, rather than part time, could be capable of amounting to indirect sex discrimination, as more women than men statistically have more family commitments. However, the requirement will not be discriminatory if it is objectively justified by your employer.

There are strict time limits for submitting discrimination claims to the employment tribunal, which is within three  months of the date of the discriminatory act complained of.

I would recommend in the first instance that you submit a grievance as outlined above.

*Tracey Guest is head of employment and a partner at Slater Heelis in Manchester. She specialises in employment law and is also a working mum.



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