Can a flexible working agreement be changed?: ask the expert

I have had my flexible working request accepted by my employer verbally agreeing and formally sending a change in hours contract letter which I have signed and returned. They are now saying I need to sign a job share agreement. They have only recently mentioned this in email, but not yet sent it out. I do not want to do this as it states that I will have to work full time if my job share partner leaves. Can they do this as part of the flexible working contract? I am due to return to work in two weeks. What are my options?

Any change made under the flexible working legislation is a permanent change to your contract. Your employer can, however, refuse a request for flexible working for business reasons, including an inability to reorganise work amongst other staff. They appear to want to hedge their bets by making a permanent change that is itself contingent on your job share partner staying in employment.

From a practical point of view, if your job share partner were to leave, one would expect your employer to recruit a replacement. If that were not possible, they could seek to renegotiate your contract at that time, subject to business need and your own circumstances (if it is some time in the future, you may be happy to increase your hours). It may be worth making the point that no one knows the future and it would be better to make a permanent change now, as required by the legislation but on the understanding that you appreciate that your ability to work part time is affected by the availability of a job share partner.

If this is refused, your first point of call is to appeal, making the above points.

If this is refused and you believe that a flexible working request has been refused on incorrect facts, you can bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal. You could rely on the fact that the legislation envisages a permanent change to a contract.

As well as the flexible working legislation, you are assisted by laws against indirect sex discrimination. Any restrictive rules that disadvantage women caring for children, such as requiring you to work on a specified number of days/hours per week, must be justified as proportionate.

If you are not successful in persuading your employer to accept your chosen work pattern without restriction and cannot return to work as a result, you should seek specialist legal advice about your options.

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