Trouble over request for more flexible shifts

I returned to work a month ago after a year’s maternity leave. I work in a call centre type environment with about 120 colleagues, on different shift patterns. A few weeks before I returned I was informed that my workplace were conducting an attendance review involving all of my colleagues, to make the spread of shifts fairer and to gain more service cover of evenings and weekends. This was due to some people being put on ‘temporary’ changes of hours years ago and never put back on the normal range of shifts when their circumstances had changed. My request for flexible working has come at the same time as this review. I have done my current eight-hour shifts five days out of seven for 12 years. I have asked to work similar shifts but over four days and earlier in the day and to work any days they need me, including weekends. We have all been called into meetings with our line managers and myself and the other mothers were asked the following questions: “Why can’t your parents look after your child?”. “Why can’t your partner look after your child?”. “Why can’t your parents or family come to your house to put your child to bed?”. “Can your child go to nursery more often?” etc. We all went into detail as to why all these things weren’t possible for us. A couple of my colleagues were told that it was their choice to have children. Some managers said that we need to start looking for new jobs. They tried to pressure us to work till 9pm and said we will be in breach of contract if we don’t. I was told I may get the shifts I have asked for, if it meets the business needs after the review, but that it would be extremely unlikely that I can drop a day to four days as part of the review. My argument was that I was requesting this change in shifts as my right as a parent to request flexible working, not as part of their review. For the time being they have given me the early shifts I have asked for and put me on paid annual leave one day a week. I have not so far submitted a formal flexible working request, but am considering that. We suspect more senior managers are unaware of the way our managers are treating us and are thinking of forwarding information. What do you suggest?

If your suspicion is correct that the conduct and approach of your manager is so far not known to the higher levels of management, you may wish to make a formal request for flexible working. If you do make a formal application your employer must respond to this in accordance with deal with the statutory procedure. In addition, if the application is dealt with by your Operations Manager, you should still have a right of appeal which could give you an opportunity to be heard at a higher level of the management structure.

To make a formal application for flexible working, your request must:-

– Be made in writing and it must be dated.
– State that it is an application under the statutory procedure.
– State the change that you are asking for and when you require it to take effect.
– Explain what effect, if any, you believe the change will have on your employer and how any such effect can be dealt with.
– State whether you have previously made a flexible working application to your employer and when.

Provided you have complied with the requirements above, your employer must deal with your request within a reasonable time and should notify you of the outcome of your request within the three-month decision period. If your employer rejects your request, there are only eight grounds on which it may lawfully do so. These grounds are listed in the statutory provisions as follows:-

1. The burden of additional costs.
2. Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.
3. Inability to reorganise work among existing staff.
4. Inability to recruit additional staff.
5. Detrimental impact on quality.
6. Detrimental impact on performance.
7. Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
8. Planned structural changes.

You may also wish to raise a collective grievance with your colleagues of sex discrimination, arising from the various comments made by the managers and their general approach to your respective requests for flexible/part-time working. If any detrimental action is taken against you by the managers because you have made a formal request for flexible working, because a grievance of sex discrimination has be made, or if any of you are dismissed as a consequence of these actions, you should immediately seek further specialist employment law advice, as you may be entitled to bring claims of sex discrimination and unfair dismissal, depending on the exact circumstances and outcome.

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