I am due to return to work at the end of April and wish to apply for a flexible working request to go part-time. My problems are (1) the office I previously worked from is being closed down and I have not been advised where I am expected to work from, despite asking on numerous occasions and recieving vague responses about locations which are not commutable especially with nursery drop-off times (2) there has recently been a collective consultation. However, my line manager has advised that my job role is remaining. I have asked if I can apply for a temporary change to my full-time contract with a view to making it permanent once the new structure has been announced. HR have advised that there is not a form for this and I have to apply for a permanent change. I am a bit wary of doing this as I believe if they were to suddenly decide to make me redundant and if my part-time working hours have been accepted this would be what any redundancy package would be based on. Also I don’t know how I am meant to put together a business case for my flexible working application if I do not know the business unit, location, or new structure? Should I submit a covering letter stating my concerns over the application or is there anything else I can do to cover my back?
You have explained that the office that you previously worked from is being closed. This therefore amounts to a potential redundancy situation and the company, in order to follow a fair procedure, should be consulting with you about this and informing you that you are at risk of redundancy. As part of a fair procedure, they should then consider whether there is any suitable alternative employment which could avoid your potential redundancy. Working from a different location can amount to suitable alternative employment. In considering whether a particular location is suitable for you, the company should consider your personal circumstances, i.e. including nursery drop off times etc. If you are offered suitable alternative employment at a location which is commutable for you, then this would avoid your potential redundancy.
In respect of your flexible working request to return part time, I understand that you are aware of the statutory right to request flexible working. The right to request legislation does not create a right to work flexibly or part time. It simply provides a statutory framework through which a request, from an eligible employee to work flexibly, must be considered. The legislation sets out procedural requirements which employees and employers must comply with when dealing with such a request.
When making your request this must be made in writing and dated and must:-
a) state that the application has been made under the statutory right to request flexible working;
b) detail the changes requested and the date it is proposed that such changes should become effective;
c) explain what effects you consider such change will have on the company and how these may be dealt with; and
d) explain the nature of the relationship between yourself and the child concerned.
You can apply under the flexible working procedure for a temporary change to your full time contract and you should inform the company that you have had legal advice to confirm this is the case. (Under the legislation, any changes to an employee’s terms and conditions of employment will be permanent, unless the employer and employee agree otherwise.) I understand that you are wary of applying for a permanent change, as you are concerned that if the company were then to make you redundant and your part time working hours had been accepted, any redundancy package due to you would be based on the reduced hours. However, this could be the case whether or not the change was permanent or temporary. If your redundancy were confirmed and implemented during the period when you were working reduced hours, your statutory redundancy pay could be calculated by using your reduced rate of pay.
In respect of your concern that you cannot put a business case together for your flexible working application if you do not know which business unit, location, new structure you will be working within, I advise you to put together your business case, based on the company’s working practices that were previously in place prior to your maternity leave. You can explain that this is what you have done. However, as suggested, you should also note your concerns within your application that it is difficult for you to consider the effects that such changes will have on the company and how these can be dealt with, without knowing the location, business unit and new structure you will be working within.
Once the company has received your request, providing this meets all the above criteria, the company should arrange to meet with you within 28 days of receiving your application to discuss your request. You have a right to be accompanied at the meeting by a colleague. The company must then comply with further time limits in respect of dealing with your request and responding to it. The company can deny your request for flexible working, but only if it has objective reasons for doing so.
If you are not happy with the decision that is reached regarding your request, you should obtain further legal advice as to whether you would have a claim for sex discrimination and/or constructive dismissal and/or a breach of the flexible working legislation.