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The high cost of refusing flexible working requests

Refusing to properly consider flexible working requests can come at a high price.

A young mum has been awarded almost £185,000 by an employment tribunal after her employer refused to consider her request for flexible working.

On returning from maternity leave after the birth of her daughter, Alice Thompson had asked her employer if she could work shorter hours so that she could pick up her daughter from nursey.

Her request involved a four-day week, leaving at 5pm instead of the usual 6pm. This was flatly refused by her employer, Paul Stellar, who said that the business couldn’t afford for her to work part-time.

Alice said that she had proposed hours that would have worked for her, but she would have been happy to discuss a ‘counter offer’ of what would have worked for the firm. When her request was refused she was left with no alternative but to resign.

Alice, who was a sales manager at Manors, a small independent estate agent in Marylebone  London, told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour that she had put her heart and soul into her estate agency career for more than 10 years. She said: That’s no mean feat, it’s quite a male dominated environment to work in. And I’d worked really hard to build relationships with clients.”

Her claim was upheld by the tribunal who ruled that she had suffered indirect sex discrimination and had been put at a disadvantage by the refusal. The judge awarded her £184,961.32 for loss of earnings, loss of pension contributions, injury to feelings and interest.

Alice added: “How are mums meant to have careers and families? It’s 2021 not 1971.” I have a daughter and I didn’t want her to experience the same treatment in 20,30 years’ time, when she’s in the workplace.

Sarah Naylor, employment law specialist at Atherton Godfrey, commented: “Employers are legally obliged to properly consider all requests for flexible working, particularly where children or caring duties are involved.

“To be eligible to apply for flexible working, an employee must have worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks. The employer does not necessarily have to agree to the request but cannot refuse without a valid business reason. Where the proposal does not fit with business operations, an alternative pattern of work may be suggested.

“Once agreed, the flexible working arrangement cannot with withdrawn or altered without the employee’s consent, unless there is a flexibility clause contained within the agreement.”

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