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I have been employed for 10 years and six months. I am a qualified accountant contracted to work 34 hours a week over four days. Since returning from maternity leave last year I have had a new manager and we have clashed from day one. She has been very dismissive of me and made my working life very stressful. She showed favouritism to her existing staff over me and my colleague and did not try and integrate us into her team. I was signed off on stress last year due to this and attempts to change my job description. During this time there were consultations on making mobile staff like me office-based from which I was excluded. In January I was given notice of the intention to change my contract from mobile to office based. They stated it was being done under clause 5.4 – the right to permanently change your normal place of work. I was given a new contract to commence in April and I was told I would lose my company car and annual mobile payment. I appealed against this, but this was turned down. I was offered a loan to buy a season ticket and they offered to amend my flexible working agreement to take into account working in the office, which I cannot do due to childcare issues. What can I do?
Requiring you to work in the office rather than at home could be indirectly discriminatory on grounds of sex. You are not able to fulfil your hours from the office because of your need to provide childcare. More women than men are in this situation so such a requirement will be indirectly discriminatory unless it can be justified as a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.
It is not clear why your employer says you will now need to work from the office when you have previously worked from home. It is further not clear why one of your colleagues will remain a mobile worker. Both facts tend to point away from any argument that it is necessary for you to work from the office. They will make it harder for your employer to justify any indirectly discriminatory effect the change has on you.
I note that your employer has offered to reconsider your flexible working application on the basis of the changed circumstances. A flexible working request can include a request to change the location of the work. You could make a further request on the basis that you will work from home, setting out how this will work (i.e. as it has to date) and pointing out again the impact an office base will have on your need for childcare.
If there is a genuine change in your role that does necessitate a change of location, you are arguably redundant for the reasons you have identified in your grievance. The alternative employment offered (i.e. the office-based role) is not suitable for you because of your particular circumstances. You should therefore receive a redundancy payment if you are unable to fulfil the new role.
If your employer does not change its mind and you are unable to continue in your role as a result, you should seek further advice before considering claims for indirect sex discrimination or a redundancy payment in the alternative.