I have been with my employer 10 years in December. My original contract was full time. I returned to work in November 2013 following maternity leave to a 3/4 day alternate week pattern following a flexible working request which was granted. I have worked the new pattern since 2013 yet this was never sent to me in writing nor was I given a new contract. I was offered a promotion in March and was told I could keep same days/hours. The location of my new role has now changed and they have said they may force a change in hours/days because of business needs. Can they do this? I have said that I cannot change due to childcare and the response was “it’s business needs. It’s in your contract”. Coincidentally, I have epilepsy and they are now saying they also need a doctor’s note to excuse me from one very specific task at the new location which I cannot do as it triggers seizures. The reason for this is “a previous employee could do this task; why can’t you?” I feel like I am being forced into a corner when they know full well I will struggle both with childcare and health-wise.
I understand that you returned from Maternity Leave in November 2013 a 3/4 day alternate week pattern following a flexible working request which was granted and that, although the alteration was not confirmed in writing and you were not issued with a new contract of employment, you have worked the new pattern since 2013. You were offered a promotion in March and were told that you could keep same working pattern due to your childcare arrangements. The location of your new role has now changed and you have been informed that your employer may also force a change in hours/days because of business needs.
You also confirm that you have epilepsy and that the Company states that it now needs a doctor’s note to excuse you from one very specific task at the new location which you cannot do as it triggers seizures. You feel like you are being forced into a corner as these changes will mean that you struggle with both childcare and your health.
Generally speaking, terms and conditions of employment can be agreed orally or in writing or a mixture of the two. They can also evolve over time and they can become your fixed, agreed terms and conditions by virtue of the fact that this is the way the contract has been performed (without objection) over a period of time, in your case since November 2013 since your return from Maternity Leave. It does appear that this is the contractual arrangement that has been agreed. You would be able to argue that the fundamental change to your terms and conditions (in terms of days, hours and/or location) without your consent is a breach of contract and potentially maternity/sex discrimination and/or disability discrimination on the grounds of your epilepsy. You could potentially have a claim for constructive unfair dismissal if you resigned in response to your employer’s treatment of you (NB I would not advise you to resign without first taking specific legal advice). Any claim for discrimination must be brought within three months of the discriminatory act and you must go through the ACAS pre-conciliation process before you can submit a claim.
Furthermore, if you are the only employee being subjected to this treatment, and this treatment is due to the circumstances of being unable to work when you were required, due to either childcare commitments or reasons relating to your epilepsy, you could potentially argue that your employer’s treatment of you constitutes unlawful sex or disability discrimination. You may also have a claim for bullying, harassment and/or victimisation if you are being singled out in this regard.
In the first instance, I would advise you to raise a grievance in relation to the treatment you have been subjected to. If this does not resolve matters, I would advise you to take further specific legal advice in relation to your situation, namely the alteration of your terms and conditions of employment without your consent, the potential unlawful discrimination issues and the possible next steps. If you do want us to review your position further for you, please contact Tracey Guest on 0161 672 1425.
*Lucy Flynn assisted in answering this question.