Can my flexible working be retracted?

I submitted a request to return to work following maternity leave and reduce my hours from full time to three days per week. I subsequently met with my manager who agreed my request and advised she would get HR to draw up and issue me with a new contract based upon me working three days per week. Yesterday I received a telephone call to say that since our meeting HR advised her a proposal had to be submitted to senior management, she did this and it was rejected. I knew nothing of this until she told me that I would not be receiving a new contract and that an alternative proposal of working condensed hours five days a week has been suggested. Apparently business needs cannot be met if I do not work each day. Yet my manager had looked at how me working part time would work and she clearly believed it was viable as she offered me those hours. I was verbally offered and accepted different working terms, can they now retract this? I have also already made childcare arrangements based upon the original offer. What can I do?

An employee has a statutory right to make a flexible working request. An employer has a duty to deal with such request in a reasonable manner, but can reject the request for any of the eight reasons listed below:

  • the burden of additional costs;
  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;
  • inability to reorganise work among existing staff;
  • inability to recruit additional staff;
  • detrimental impact on quality;
  • detrimental impact on performance;
  • insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work; or
  • planned structural changes.

With regard to the initial agreement by a manager, this will depend on whether there is any evidence to rely on that the matter was previously agreed, and also if the manager had authority to do so. Ideally, this evidence should be in writing, either at the time of the agreement, or a statement from the manager confirming the reduced hours were previously agreed. If such evidence can be obtained, this could be used to appeal against the company’s decision to refuse the reduced hours.

It is worth checking the company’s flexible working policy and, if they are in clear breach of their policy, it may be a matter to pursue before an Employment Tribunal.


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