Contract changed after I asked for a gradual return

I had postnatal depression after having my son and after my maternity leave was all used up I rang the office and requested a meeting to discuss returning to work gradually. I met with my line manager and the boss and verbally requested to be able to return to work gradually, starting at two to three days a week and working up to going back to my full time role. They agreed to trial this for three months and then review it to see if it was working for everyone. This review never took place. Six months later I  requested to return to full-time hours and I have been told that my contract is now only for two days a week and they don’t have the budget to increase my hours permanently. They said I have been granted flexible working which has permanently altered my contract. I never agreed to changing my contract permanently. I wasn’t aware they had permanently changed my contract. I didn’t want a permanent change and stated this at the meeting saying I wanted to get back to working full time in the future. I never sent any written request. They have never sent me any letter about the change and I never saw or signed a new contract. None of this has been put in writing at all. They appear to have misunderstood what I was asking and now it seems to be my word against theirs and they say because I have been working two days a week these last six months that I accepted flexible working. How can I have consented when I didn’t know what I was consenting to?

A formal request for flexible working does permanently change your contract, but this needs to be confirmed in writing.

If nothing has been put in writing at all, you are right to say that it is essentially your word against whomever held the meeting with you as to what was agreed. However, one would expect any permanent change to your hours to be recorded in writing. You working shorter hours for six months is as consistent with your position that you were granted a gradual return to work because of post-natal depression as it is a permanent change. This doesn’t appear to me to be an acceptance of a permanent change.

You should stand your ground, explaining that they have not notified you of any permanent change so you are entitled to return to your full hours. You should be prepared to be flexible as to when and how this takes place as it seems that your agreement was quite loose. If nothing is agreed, you should raise a grievance. If that doesn’t work, you should seek specific advice as to your next steps.

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