Employment tribunal win for woman denied flexible part-time hours

16 September 2021

First time mum Alice Thompson has been awarded almost £185,000 by an employment tribunal. The tribunal found that Thompson’s ex-employer, Manors Estate , had subjected her to indirect sex discrimination.

Background

When Thompson returned to work after maternity leave, she made a flexible working request to her employer for shorter working hours so she could pick her daughter up from nursery. Manors Estate Agency denied her flexible working request on the basis they could “not afford for her to work part time” which left her with no alternative but to resign from her job as a sales manager as she could not balance her work with her family commitments.

Indirect Discrimination

Following her resignation, Thompson sued Manors Estate Agency for indirect sex discrimination. Indirect discrimination is when there is a policy, practice or procedure in place that applies to everyone but inadvertently puts certain employees at a particular disadvantage because of a protected characteristic.

The tribunal found that Manors failed to properly consider Thompson’s flexible working request, and this carte blanche denial of such requests had an indirectly discriminate effect on women who historically have to juggle childcare responsibilities and work. As a result, the judge awarded Thompson almost £185,000 for loss of earnings, loss of pension contributions, injury to feelings and interest.

Importance for Employers

This case highlights that it is imperative for employers, especially in light of the “new normal” due to the pandemic, to not only have flexible working policies in place, but also ensure that they do not indirectly discriminate against employees with protected characteristics. The Equality Act 2010 states that you cannot discriminate against the following protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage or civil partnership (in employment only)
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

Top tips for employers when considering flexible working requests:

  1. Keep your policies up to date

Working practices have changed during the pandemic and expectations of different ways of working have changed. Ensure to keep your policies up to date as our way of working changes and that managers are trained accordingly.

  1. Have an open mind

Be sure to have a positive mindset throughout the process. Whatever happens, you want to maintain good working relationships with employees and uphold a positive reputation as an employer who is actively trying to reach an outcome that works for you both.

  1. Compromise and consider alternatives

If you really cannot accommodate a request, consider other potential options with employees. Tribunals will favor that you have attempted to be reasonable in offering alternative options. If no changes can be made at all ensure you have one of the legally defined reasons for rejecting the request and the relevant evidence to support this.

If you are an employer who is need of guidance on flexible working procedures please contact our specialist employment team who will be able to provide expert advice and guidance.

 

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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