Mums' right to part-time
An employer not allowing a mother to go part-time may amount to illegal discrimination, writes Emma Williams
Sunday 07 November 1999
The most common perception is, of course, that if the boss tells a mother that she can't shift from full-time to part-time, it's too bad. Indeed the law gives women the right to return to their jobs after maternity leave, but not the absolute right to work part-time. Nevertheless, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 states that it counts as indirect discrimination if an employer requires a woman to work particular hours that are not justifiable.
Take the case of Annette Cowley, recently dismissed by her employer, South African Airways, for refusing to work two 16-hour shifts back-to- back because of childcare responsibilities. She claimed sex discrimination at an employment tribunal and won.
Even if the woman's boss asks her to work eight-hour days, she may have a case. Good reasons for asking to work flexibly are: if she cannot find full-time child care; she cannot afford full-time child care; she needs to be there when her children come home from school (perhaps because they have special needs); or she suffers from severe stress from working long hours (perhaps because her partner cannot share the child care).
It is not the case, though, that employers automatically have to comply with such requests. Rather, the law requires that they have a good reason for refusing. "Refusing even to consider a request would almost certainly be seen as unjustified if the matter went to an industrial tribunal," says Joanna Wade, specialist lawyer for the Maternity Alliance. "And so would having a policy of refusing part-time work or that the job is too senior."
Another invalid justification for employers refusing to negotiate working hours is the argument that "continuity is crucial". When one employer used this argument to say two receptionists couldn't job-share, the chairman of the industrial tribunal was not impressed. He said the problem could be overcome "by the simple means of a notepad".
The ideal, of course, is reaching an agreement that prevents any legal action.
"Simply being aware of these rights means both employers and employees should instigate negotiation as early as possible. For the employee, this can mean as early as being a few weeks pregnant," explains Ms Wade. "You can invite your employer to consider your request in the knowledge that he or she can't dismiss it without consideration. Most employers, after all, don't want to break the law."
A remaining concern of the Maternity Alliance, however, is that employers are still getting away with using the excuse of expense. "Employers often claim it is too costly to introduce job-share or other flexible working practices. But National Insurance costs are no higher for part-timers, and job-sharers share desks and computers."
In fact a report published last month by the Institute of Employment Studies shows that small businesses can save up to pounds 250,000 by introducing flexible working arrangements.
As a result of the report, the Department for Education and Employment is about to launch a campaign to encourage employers to make it easier for their employees to balance home and work life.
- 1 Top 20 misconceptions people believe are true
- 2 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 3 Black Mass trailer: Johnny Depp might have started making good films again
- 4 Jacob Lescenski and Anthony Martinez: Straight student asks gay friend to High School prom and makes a million Twitter friends
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
Top 20 misconceptions people believe are true
Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
Head transplant: man will be attached to new body in under an hour and aim is immortality, doctor says
Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Katie Hopkins on LBC: Listen to caller taking The Sun columnist to task over migrant comments
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
iJobs Money & Business
£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...
£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...