New manager going back on verbal agreement on flexible working: ask the expert

When I came back from maternity leave in March 2012 I met with my line manager and we agreed that I was able to work any three days from Monday to Friday and finish no later than 5.35pm as nursery finishes at 6pm. He has since left and my new line manager has stated that this was just a verbal agreement and nothing was put in writing, so I now have to formally apply in writing for flexible working. He has also stated that he needs his managers flexible and to work Saturdays as that is the busiest day. Can he demote me if I can’t be flexible and work Saturdays and at night? He also has stated that my flexible working doesn’t have to be approved and it’s not fair on other staff if I don’t work nights and Saturdays. I would have to leave if flexible working was turned down.

A change to your contractual terms can be made in writing or through verbal agreement. In your situation, your hours were changed through a verbal agreement and you have worked on your new hours since March 2012. This is a permanent change to your contract (unless it was agreed to be temporary at the time). Your new manager cannot therefore change your hours without your express consent and cannot require you to re-submit your flexible working application (and you should not agree to do this). If your manager forces the change on you i.e. requires you to change your hours you could then resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. The fact that you have worked your reduced hours for almost two years shows that your pattern of hours is possible and able to be accommodated in the business. Your new manager would therefore find it difficult to insist that your hours change to weekends and nights. You could raise a grievance about the way you are being treated and see whether that resolves the situation.

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