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New mother awarded £185,000 after employer refused flexible working

A new mother who had a her request for flexible working refused was reportedly awarded £185,000 by the Employment Tribunal.

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A new mother who had a her request for flexible working refused was reportedly awarded £185,000 by the Employment Tribunal. Estate agent Alice Thompson went on maternity leave in 2018, on her return to the workplace in 2019 she requested to work 4 days a week and to finish at 4pm so she could pick up her daughter from nursery.

Her employer refused to consider Ms Thompson’s request. Following a near 2 year battle, Ms Thompson was successful at Tribunal, which found that she had suffered indirect sex discrimination.

Ms Thompson was reported to have stated that her employer did not seriously consider her request for flexible working and she was told it would not work for the company. The company did not propose alternative arrangements that might suit the needs of both Ms Thompson and the business.

Employers should take note of this case and the large award given to Ms Thompson. The law is clear that employers must deal with an application for flexible working in a reasonable manner which, while not defined, will likely include but not limited to holding a meeting with the employee, assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application, and offering an appeal process to the employee of their request is refused. An employer can only refuse an application if they have a good business reason for doing so.

Any applications for flexible working should be dealt with seriously and carefully. Employers should implement a policy and procedure for dealing with them, and should adopt a consistent approach to all requests, clearly explaining the reason for any refusal and why they have a good business reason for doing so.

Failure to deal with an application in a reasonable manner can have serious and more far reaching consequences than an employer might expect. As here, a failure to deal with an application reasonably, or in some cases a refusal in itself, could also amount to an act of discrimination.

With flexible working applications on the rise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are likely to face these issues more often and must take steps to avoid common pitfalls.

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daniel.zona@collyerbristow.com