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A law firm says the number of people taking their employer to employment tribunal for refusal of a flexible working request is rising.
The number of employment tribunal decisions relating to flexible working have increased 52% to reach a record high in the past year, according to research by law firm GQ|Littler.
It found that the number of such tribunals rose to of 193 in 2020-21, up from 127 in 2019-20.
The law firm says the number of claims relating to flexible working requests may be being driven by employees resisting attempts by employers to bring them back into the office or otherwise seeking to build more flexibility into their role. Also employees with parenting responsibilities and people suffering from health conditions (or with vulnerable relatives) may have contributed towards the rise in claims.
There are eight prescribed reasons that employers can use to refuse a request, with the most commonly used being that flexible working would have a ‘detrimental impact on performance’ or a ‘detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand’.
GQ says claims brought to the employment tribunals over flexible working are often brought alongside discrimination claims. For example, a new mother was awarded £185,000 by an employment tribunal who ruled she had suffered indirect sex discrimination when her employer refused to consider her flexible working request.
Sophie Vanhegan, Partner at GQ|Littler, says: “The rise in cases relating to flexible working suggests this is becoming a battleground within some businesses.”
“We may just be seeing the beginning of a tranche of claims taken against employers who’ve failed to deal with flexible working requests in a ‘reasonable manner’.”
She added: “When it comes to bringing employees back into the office, employers should be wary of taking a heavy-handed approach. Many sectors are currently experiencing considerable challenges in hiring and retaining talent. At the same time, more candidates are now asking for flexible arrangements at recruitment stage, so may be put off by would-be employers who aren’t open-minded to these requests. Similarly, if existing employees feel that their requests aren’t properly considered, they may vote with their feet.”
GQ|Littler advises employers who are unsure about granting employees’ flexible working requests to consider agreeing to these on a trial basis. It says: “This way, they can gather evidence as to whether or not the arrangement is workable for the business as well as the employee and then provide more detailed evidence if one of the eight specified reasons for refusal is met.”