I started work with a firm 9 months ago and am contracted to work 3 days per week. My bosses recently asked me to work an extra day, but I said I couldn’t work a full day due to childcare commitments. I agreed to work an extra half day. They have now asked that I work a further extra day, saying the workload warrants more than 3 1/2 days in the office. Can they force me to increase my hours?
You have made it clear that even when you started work for the firm 9 months ago, it was on a part-time three-day a week basis. This was therefore not as a result of a flexible working request, but as a result of contracted agreed hours.
In order to change contractual terms, it is not possible for the firm simply to change your terms unilaterally. The easiest way is by consent, which is what happened when you moved from your three day week to a three and a half day week. If you consent to amend your terms then there is no problem since the firm can then just move you on to your revised terms.
The situation is, however, different if, as now, the proposal is to move you onto a four and a half day week. There are several ways in which they could try to achieve this if you do not consent :
From a practical point of view, I would get together as many arguments as possible as to why you could not work four and a half days – for example, your childcare commitments would not allow it, you already have a season ticket for a shorter period, you want to spend more time with your child etc, and ask for a meeting to discuss your reasoning. You should also have prepared some arguments as to why you consider three and a half days are sufficient to carry out your workload and why the business would benefit from you remaining on your existing hours. You might want to consider offering to work slightly longer hours on the days that you do work in an effort to try to resolve matters. If they agree to the meeting but then do not take your arguments on board, you can indicate to them that you do not think that this is justified and that if they force you to do so you will register your protest and raise a formal grievance. In that grievance I would make the arguments for justifying remaining on your existing hours, but also indicate how unfairly you consider you are being treated and that you consider it is due to being a working mother. If that does not work, then you may have to resort to proceedings, but hopefully they will see sense before this.