Reduction in hours declined: ask the expert

I have been working for my employer for the last 7 years continuously delivering good ratings. aAfter 5 years of employment I went on my 1st maternity leave and on return I asked for reduction of hours from full time 3 full days. Eventually this was granted. Upon my return to work I found out that I was expecting again so I worked for 5 months and had to go on another 52 weeks of maternity leave which is due to end in March. In October 2013 my company requested every employee on every level to come forward and apply for voluntary reduction of hours or voluntary redundancy. I responded to their request by requesting reduction of hours to 2 full days on Monday-Friday. I cannot do Saturdays due to childcare, but am happy to be relocated. This was refused. I appealed, but the experience was like an interrogation for at least gross missconduct. I was constantly being blocked and no matter what I tried to say it felt like was not good enough as if they wanted to wash their hands of me. Following the meeting a rejection letter appeared, which stated that not only did they uphold the rejection of the reduction of hours, but also it was stated that I now have no further right to appeal or to request flexible hours for the next 12 months. All this time I was convinced that when my mat leave is due to expire I would still have the opportunity to ask for a reduction of hours on the grounds of my childcare circumstances as normal. The rejection letter says otherwise. Surely they cannot just do that? My union rep advises me to challenge in writing the people who conducted my appeal. At no stage  have I been offered any compromise, any alternatives or negotiations. I understood from the appeal meeting that the issue for them is that I cannot do Saturdays as they still expect 100% flexibility, which is illogical as I would not be asking for a reduction of hours and certain flexibility adjustments if I was 100% flexible. I have managed to book a meeting with my line manager next week, but how should I conduct this and can I bring a union rep?

Under the flexible working legislation, you have the right to make one request for flexible working each year. Your employer has to arrange a meeting to discuss it and offer an appeal against any refusal, which they appear to have done. Your employer can refuse a request for flexible working for business reasons, including an inability to reorganise work amongst other staff. Without sight of your employer’s letter, it is difficult to advise whether they fall within the legislation.

What is unclear is whether your application was a flexible working request or simply you responding to their request for volunteers to reduce hours. If the latter, you would still have the right to make a new request for flexible working, assuming 12 months have passed since your first request.

From a practical point of view, if you have a good relationship with your line manager, it may be worth an informal chat to see if you can agree a mutually beneficial rota. If not, you could make a further request for reduced hours for your return. Whilst there might be some argument over whether or not you have the right to make a second request within 12 months, as well as the flexible working legislation you are assisted by laws against indirect sex discrimination. Any restrictive rules that disadvantage women caring for children, such as requiring you to work on Saturdays or a specified number of days/hours per week must be justified as proportionate. Again, it is difficult to advise without knowing more about your employer’s reasons for the refusal.

If you are not successful in persuading your employer to accept your chosen work pattern and cannot return to work as a result, you may have claims in the Employment Tribunal. You should seek specialist legal advice about your options if you are not able to resolve matters with your employer.





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