Colleague granted reduced hours and I am refused: ask the expert

I am currently on maternity leave and due to return to work in June. I have applied to reduce my hours from full time to 25 hours a week. Another colleague in my office has also asked to reduce her hours and even though no decision had been made on her application when mine went in, she has had her hours accepted on a tempory 3 month trial yet I have been refused mine. They have said that the hours left from me reducing and those of the other colleague (which amounts to 20 hours) does not warrant the cost and effort of training up a new employee part time and that we do not have adequate space within our department for another worker- even though there is adequate space and another colleague who also only works part time only works mornings so we could desk share. They also said that we wouldn’t meet targets if I went part time and that work could not be rota’d fairly. Why weren’t these reasons also said to my colleague? They went on to say that while I have been off on my maternity leave, my work has been covered by my team leader which has meant that some of her own work has not been done and this is another reason they are refusing my request.  I feel this is unfair as firstly I am not even there as I am on maternity leave and secondly, how they have arranged to cover my maternity leave is nothing to do with me, and if they haven’t managed to fulfil some work then why have they agreed to my other colleague’s request to go part time? Please can you help in any way. I am finding this very upsetting and stressful and it is ruining the rest of my maternity leave. I really do think I am being treat unfairly.

Under the flexible working legislation, you have the right to make one request for flexible working each year. Your employer has to arrange a meeting to discuss it and offer an appeal against any refusal. Your employer can refuse a request for flexible working for business reasons, including an inability to reorganise work amongst other staff. Without sight of your employer’s reasoned refusal, it is difficult to advise whether they fall within the legislation.

Your first point of call is to appeal against the refusal, making the points you have in this post. 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 your colleague’s request has been granted as evidence that the purported reasons for refusal are not correct.

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. Again, it is difficult to advise without knowing more about your employer’s reasons for the refusal.

You might also have a claim for maternity discrimination as you believe that the reason for the difference in treatment between you and your colleague is the fact you are on maternity leave.

If you are not successful in persuading your employer to accept your chosen work pattern and cannot return to work as a result, you should seek specialist legal advice about your options.

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