Mums' right to part-time

An employer not allowing a mother to go part-time may amount to illegal discrimination, writes Emma Williams

Despite the rapid growth in flexible working practices, a new survey published by the Institute of Personnel and Development reveals that over a quarter of organisations still do not provide their employees with the option of working part-time. What many employers and employees are not aware of is that mothers may have the legal right to insist that their employers explore the option of flexibility. According to the Maternity Alliance, a national charity that works to "make life better" for all pregnant women and new parents, it is high time they were aware.

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Guru Careers: In-House / Internal Recruiter

£25 - 28k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An In-house / Internal Recruiter is needed to...

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project