Not informed of office changes on maternity leave: ask the expert

My employer has turned down my request to work 4 days a week when I return to work after maternity leave (SMP) which I am currently on.  I usually work 5 days a week and my request was made due to the fact that the child minder I have found only has a 4 day a week slot available and I am reluctant to let this go as we have had trouble finding a good local child minder and the lady we have found is rated as outstanding by Ofsted. There are 2 secretaries where I work (me being one of them) and my request was made on the basis that the other secretary would be able to cover me for one day.  My request has been turned down because it turns out my employer decided not to replace the other secretary who left the company just before I went on maternity leave, and instead have just one secretary i.e. me.  I was never informed of this so it was complete news to me and a bit of a shock when my boss turned down my request on the basis that they required full time secretarial support.   In the 4 years I have worked at the company they have always employed 2 secretaries and it does concern me that the workload will fall just on me.  I voiced my concerns to my boss in a telephone conversation but was simply told that the girl who was covering my maternity leave is managing so he didn’t see why I couldn’t.  My boss’ manner was quite blunt on the phone, and not friendly in any way.  I felt extremely anxious after the conversation and have been feeling very low ever since.  When my boss replied to my original email request he ruled out the option of us getting a temp to cover me each Wednesday on the basis of workflow continuity.   The whole situation is really playing on my mind.  My job has changed without any word or warning to me and because of this my 4 day a week request has been denied.  FYI I made 2 other requests which were granted; the first that I extend my maternity leave, and the second request was that I have half an hour lunch break instead of an hour and leave the office half an hour earlier each evening.

If you made a formal request under the right to request flexible working you can appeal the refusal, and your employer should have a face to face meeting with you to discuss your appeal.

A refusal of a flexible working request may be indirect sex discrimination, but if the employer can show that the refusal is justified then they may be able to successfully defend a claim by you.

Why can the job not be job shared?  Has your employer tried to see if they can find someone willing to work the other day each week?  But that said a one day a week job may be hard to recruit particularly if the day has to be a particular day.  Would you consider working less days?  Two or three days a week?  if so then it may be easier for your employer to find a job share partner to share the job with you. The more flexible you are the more likely you will reach a resolution with your employer, and if your employer refuse every suggestion then this makes their intransigence look more unreasonable.

I suggest in the first instance that you go into work and have an informal discussion with your boss to see if an informal resolution can be reached.  You could suggest a trial period of 4 days a week trialing a temp in the day you are not in.  A trial period will give you and them the opportunity to see how this works in practice.

If agreement cannot be reached and  you have not already made a formal request to work flexibly under the right to request flexible working then I suggest this is the next step.

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