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When Can Employers Reject Requests to Work Flexibly?

Employers who deal with a request to work flexibly in a reasonable manner and within applicable time limits, and whose decision does not breach discrimination law, may lawfully refuse a request that falls within a specified ground for rejection in the relevant legislation, a recent ruling makes clear.

A fulltime, employed designer put in a request to reduce her hours when she returned from maternity leave, and to work mainly from home after 6pm. The employer followed the Acas code on dealing with requests for flexible working. It accepted her request for reduced hours, but not her request to work from home on the basis that:

• Its ways of working required designers to work together face-to-face on technical designs, and
• Designs often had to be changed at short notice

If the employee worked only at home in the evenings this would create problems.

The employee resigned and refused her employer’s invitation to deal with her complaint under its grievance procedure. She claimed breach of flexible working law, constructive dismissal and indirect sex discrimination.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) rejected all her claims. Particularly, in relation to the flexible working request, the ET said it is a perfectly proper answer to a flexible working request for an employer … to say ‘granting this request would not be in the best interests of our business; we believe what has been requested would be detrimental to our business in that, at best, it would cause us minor but more than minimal inconvenience’.

The decision makes clear that it is not unreasonable for an employer to put its own interests above those of the employee when considering a flexible working request. Following the relevant Acas code is also critical.

Operative date

• Now

Recommendation

• Employers who follow the Acas code and deal with a request to work flexibly in a reasonable manner within applicable time limits, and whose decision does not breach discrimination law, can lawfully refuse a request that falls within one of the specified grounds for rejection in the legislation

Case ref: Whiteman v CPS Interiors Ltd and others ET/2601103/2015

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Jonathan Waters
is the founder of Helix Law. Before qualifying as a Solicitor he worked in industry and in investment banking for over a decade. He was also the Partner in charge of Commercial Litigation, Employment Law and Property Litigation at Stephen Rimmer LLP. Jonathan has wide experience of helping and advising businesses to avoid or to deal with commercial disputes and in particular construction disputes.

This article is written to raise awareness of the issues it discusses and it may not be updated after it is first written, even if the law changes. It is not intended to be legal advice and cannot be relied on as such. Helix Law is not responsible or liable for any action taken or not taken as a result of  this article. If you think the matters set out affect you and you wish to apply them to your particular circumstances then we are happy to give you free initial telephone advice. 

Contact Helix Law on 01273 761 990 or email: [email protected]