Told I must accept late nights as union agreed shift change

I have worked for my employer for 17 years. My written contract says the hours worked can be between 8am and 8pm. I returned from maternity a few years ago and reduced my hours to part time and I offered one late night a week, but said I couldn’t do more than that due to childcare. My employer verbally agreed my shift pattern so I did not put a flexible working request in.  The company have now told me they are reviewing my shift due to a company restructure. New shifts have been collectively agreed by our union and they include too many lates and Saturdays which I am unable to do as I am a single parent. The company have said they will force the shift and because the union have agreed them there is nothing the union can do to help. What can I do?

You should make a formal request for flexible working, setting out your particular circumstances and reduced hours, with a proposal of how many lates and Saturdays you could cover. Your employer can refuse the request, but only if they are unable to reorganise the work amongst existing staff or for one of a number of other prescribed reasons – the fact that the union has agreed the proposed shift pattern is not of itself a ground to refuse.

If you did need to resign because your request for flexible working was refused, you might have a claim under the flexible working legislation if the decision was made on incorrect facts, or you might have a claim for indirect sex discrimination if you can show that your employer’s imposition of the shifts was not proportionate. You should take advice promptly as there is a short three-month time limit to submit a claim for Early Conciliation with ACAS.

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