I am currently on maternity leave which is due to finish soon. However, due to my employer dragging their feet with my discussions on returning part-time, I suggested that I use 8 KIT days to cover the month I was due back and would finish my maternity leave to go back later on 16 hours/2 days a week. Having heard very little since I was then phoned the other day to say that they don’t think that two days a week is suitable for my role and I would need to increase my hours. (This I cannot do due to childcare costs). I would like to know if they can do this with less than six weeks’ notice for my maternity leave to finish or how much notice should they be giving me to say that there is no suitable role (I have been employed by the company for eight years in various roles.)
I have been told that I should have put in a flexible working request, but to be honest I assumed that the discussions with work were ok for what I wanted to do as they never requested it to be put in formally. People have suggested that I extend my maternity leave for the extra two months whilst this is sorted out or take holidays or parental leave, but I am confused about what is the best option to move forward.
From the information you have provided, it is clear that you have made an informal request for flexible working and that this has been refused. The fact that you have made an informal request does not preclude you from making a formal request for flexible working under statute, and this is what I recommend that you should do next. Your request must be made in writing and dated and must:
State that the application is being made under the statutory right to request flexible working;
Detail the changes requested and the date it is proposed that such changes should become effective;
Explain what effects you consider such change will have on the Company and how these may be dealt with;
Confirm the relationship between you and the child.
Your initial request was informal; therefore there was no obligation your employer to comply with any time limits. However, with a formal flexible working request, there are certain time limits that your employer must comply with. Your employer must hold a meeting with you to discuss your flexible working request within 28 days of the date of your application. This will give both parties an opportunity to consider how the application may be accommodated. You will have the right to be accompanied to the meeting by a fellow colleague. Your employer must provide you with a final decision, in writing, within 14 days of the date of meeting. If your request is granted, the letter must specify the variation agreed and the date on which it will take effect. If your request is refused, the refusal must be based upon one of the following statutory grounds:
1. The burden of additional costs
2. Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
3. Inability to re-organise work among existing staff
4. Inability to recruit additional staff
5. Detrimental impact on quality
6. Detrimental impact on performance
7. Insufficiency of work during the periods you propose to work
8. Planned structural changes
The refusal notice must set out which ground(s) apply and provide a sufficient explanation as to why these apply. If your request is refused, you will have the right to appeal. Under the statutory procedure, you must appeal within 14 days. You should refer to the reasons for refusal and try to offer counter-arguments as to how you feel that the issues could be resolved.
Ultimately, you need to submit your request as soon as possible, and provided all deadlines are met, the matter could be concluded in 6 – 8 weeks. You could consider taking KIT days, annual leave and / or extending your maternity leave until this is concluded, but you obviously need to consider the financial implications this may have. For example, your employer is under no obligation to pay you for KIT days or to pay you for parental leave (unless there are contractual policies to the contrary).
It may be the case that your employer does have a genuine business ground for refusing your request, and if this is the case you would need to consider your options, i.e. whether it is possible to go back to work full-time or whether you would have to seek alternative employment. Your employer is not under any duty to give you a set amount of notice for refusing your request (save for the time limits under the flexible working procedure). If by the end of the procedure your request has been refused and you do not believe that the employer has properly established a business ground, you could have potential claims for constructive unfair dismissal, breach of the statutory flexible working procedure and / or sex discrimination.