Office closing and job being changed so I can’t pick up my autistic son

I have worked for a company for 15 years. I work 19.5 hours per week. The office is now closing and the work is being outsourced. I am in redeployment. Initially, they said an alternative role was at an office an additional 45 minutes away from the current office. I advised them I cannot do this as I would be unable to take my children to school and pick them up. They told me I had to put them in childcare, reduce my hours (to allow for the additional travel time) or resign. They also have a office 10 minutes from my home and after a persistent and aggressive five months of saying they didn’t have to offer me a role there they have now done so. However, they have said to have that role I need to do two days until 6pm.  Not only does that mean childcare costs outweighing my pay, but the childcare closes at 6pm so I can’t physically do it. My eldest son suffers with dyspraxia, co-ordination development disorder and high functioning autism and is due to start secondary school in September. He will need a support plan in place to cope with the change. I advised them it would mean him getting home from school on his own and being in a empty house for three hours which is totally unacceptable and impossible for him/ me to manage. His condition is covered under the Equality Act 2010. They have told me to “find a solution” or “send him home with a friend”. I am now off work with work-related stress. Can they make me do these hours and leave my son (basically I would have to leave)? My second issue is the role they have offered is in a demanding front office contact centre and I cannot do this type of work without anxiety. They said there are no redundancy options and I will need to walk out the door with nothing if I don’t do it. Can I reject the role as unsuitable as it is totally different to the back office role I’ve been doing for the last six years and it causes me to have panic attacks and be off ill. They have also said flexible working requests are no more and they will refuse them; you have to move up or down hours to find something suitable, but there is no flexibility. I wouldn’t be able to do any of them due to getting back for my sons.

A potential redundancy situation can arise where, amongst other factors, there is a closure of the employee’s workplace.  The employer is required to undertake a fair process to avoid redundancy where possible, including to seek suitable alternative employment for any at risk employees. The employee must be given notice of the dismissal and the employer must make an offer of re-employment before the old employment ends and the new job must start either immediately after the old job comes to an end or after an interval of not more than four weeks.  The employee then has a statutory right to a trial period of four weeks where the job is different to the one the employee previously carried out.  If the employee decides against the job and leaves during the trial period, they are treated as having been dismissed when the old job came to an end and are entitled to a redundancy payment.  If the employee refuses an offer of new employment, they could lose the right to a redundancy payment if the offer constituted an offer of suitable employment and the refusal is unreasonable.

Based on the information currently available to me, I am unclear where the process is up to currently.  If you are still in the consultation phase, I recommend that you request a meeting and set out the points below.  If the consultation period has concluded, I recommend that you submit a grievance, setting out the points below and requesting a meeting with the employer as soon as possible to discuss your grievance:

–       I consider that the role being proposed is not suitable alternative employment for the following reasons:

o   The job content is different in that I previously worked in a back office role and am now being required to work in a front office contact centre;

o   The working hours are different, I previous worked four days a week from 9.30am – 2.30pm but now am being asked to work two full days until 6.00pm;

–       I consider that I am being reasonable in rejecting the proposed role on the following basis:

o   The requirement to work two full days until 6.00pm means that I would be unable to meet my childcare commitments;

o   The requirement to work two full days means that childcare costs will outweigh my salary;

o   My eldest son suffers with dyspraxia, co-ordination development disorder and high functioning autism and he is due to start secondary school next September.  The proposed working hours would mean him getting home from school on his own and being in a empty house for three hours alone which is totally unacceptable and impossible for him/me to manage.  His condition is covered under the Equality Act 2010;

o   The proposed role is a demanding front office contact centre and I anticipate this will lead to anxiety on my part and may lead to panic attacks on my part (if you have suffered from anxiety before in front facing roles, you should detail it);

o   In any event, the company has failed to offer me the statutory four-week trial period in the new post;

o   In the event that a trial period is granted and I decide against the new role during the trial period, I should be treated as having been dismissed when my old job came to an end and am entitled to a redundancy payment;

0   In respect of your position on flexible working, there is a statutory right to request flexible working as I have more than 26 weeks continuous employment and my children are under 17 years old.  The company is required to follow the statutory procedure and consider my application and failure to do so could amount to a claim for sex discrimination (direct and indirect);

o   I also submit that as a parent of a disabled child who is under 18 years old, if the company refuses my flexible working request to enable me to care for my disabled child, this could amount to a claim for discrimination on the grounds of disability (direct, indirect, discrimination by association and failure to make reasonable adjustments).

Your case is very complex therefore I am only able to provide practical advice at this stage.  In the event, you require more detailed advice, please do not hesitate to contact me.

*Samantha Tanney assisted in answering this question.

 





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