Hours changed when I came back from maternity leave

I’m currently having issues with my hours. I have worked my current hours for about two and a half years since my eldest son started school. I put in a flexible working application the year before when he started pre-school, but once he started school I needed to be able to work more flexibly. My husband works on a rota so I basically work around him covering what childcare he can’t. We used a childminder one day a week so I could work a full day.

At the time he started school I offered to put in another application as I thought I’d need to be on an annualised hours contract as my hours would vary each week. I was told this would be of no benefit to me and that I should have an informal agreement to work flexi hours. 

Since coming back from maternity leave for my second child I have been moved to another department. It is in our contracts that we can be moved so I had no say.  I was told I would be moved on my current terms and conditions, but as there was no flexi agreement reflecting my current hours and because I was returning from maternity I needed to put in another request. I was verbally told the hours had been refused and to come up with an alternative. I did so and that was also refused.  My employer made other suggestions, but they will mean me paying a lot more childcare or don’t take into account my husband’s varied shift pattern which they say is not their problem. So I asked to reduce to 18 hours, but fear they will say no. Surely they should have checked that my hours suited their office before moving me? I have been more stressed than I have ever been at work. I’ve been crying and struggling to sleep as I hate the department that I’ve been put in but that might have all been manageable if I didn’t have all this going on with my hours. It feels like there’s no compromise on their part at all.  I feel like the goal posts are moved all the time and I’m worried about the politics of appealing over my manager’s head.

If your hours were originally changed following a flexible working application, that was a permanent change to your contract. You should be able to insist that you return to your previous pattern.

It sounds as if you then changed your hours again, without a formal arrangement. This was termed a “local agreement”, but it may have formed part of your contract by custom and practice. If so, this should have moved with you when you moved department.

If you are now asking for a different pattern of hours, that would be a new application. Your employer can refuse a request for flexible working for good business reasons. A pattern that changes from week to week is less likely to be accepted. It is correct to say that your husband’s shift pattern is to a large extent irrelevant: it is the impact on your workplace under consideration. If, however, your previous department was able to work with a pattern that changed from week to week, the question is why the new department is not. If there is a flexi-time policy, there is presumably a mechanism for checking that staff are working the correct number of hours.

I understand why you are reluctant to go over your manager’s head, but if she seems likely to refuse your application your alternatives are either to do this or to accept what she proposes in terms of hours. If you do appeal, you should ask why it was possible for one team to monitor a pattern changing from week to week but not this new team. You should also mention the flexi-time policy and the point about being able to monitor what hours are worked.

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