A father has won a landmark sex discrimination case against a leading insurance group that refused to allow him to work part-time so he could care for his baby daughter.
Robert Jones, 26, an insurance worker, took his case to the Equal Opportunities Commission after the firm turned down his request to work just four days a week to look after his 10-month-old daughter, Matilda. His wife, Iona, a policewoman, wanted to return to full-time work as the main breadwinner. She earned £6,000 more a year than her husband.
But Mr Jones's employer, Groupama UK Services, initially rejected his request, despite allowing 15 of his female colleagues to work part-time, saying it was unprecedented for a male employee to work part-time for childcare reasons. Yesterday, the firm accepted that it had treated Mr Jones unfairly and settled the case, stating it had now devised a four-day week for him. The insurance group is also overhauling its policy to enable more male employees to work part-time if they wish to bring up children.
The commission said the result was a significant victory for employees and set an important precedent. It would lead to more fathers coming forward with similar requests. Celebrating his victory yesterday, Mr Jones, a claims negotiator, of Longbridge, West Midlands, said he was now looking forward to spending more time with his daughter.
He said he had been nervous about bringing the case against his employers but felt a vital principle was at stake. "I wanted to keep my job but asked to work a four-day week to care for Matilda," Mr Jones said. "I was very surprised when the firm turned down my request, especially as they had done it for other female employees. My wife earns more than me and the obvious choice was for me to cut down my hours so she could work full-time. But my employers said there was no precedent for giving part-time work to men for childcare reasons and refused on that basis.
"There are more than a dozen women at my work that have been allowed to change to part-time work for childcare reasons. I thought it was discriminatory not to allow me the same right."
Mr Jones, who has worked for the company for three years, said his colleagues had been "very supportive" and agreed that he had been unjustly treated. Mrs Jones, a 26-year-old WPC, said: "I am glad he chose to fight for something he believed so strongly in. We both enjoy our jobs but had to decide what option would work out best. Robert wanted to pursue his career and so did I but we had to decide which was the more financially viable solution."
Last night a Groupama Services spokesman said: "Robert's request was unprecedented for us. However, we have now devised an arrangement where Robert will have a shared caseload with a colleague enabling him to work a four-day week."
Judith Mellor, who chairs the commission, said employers should recognise that men as well as woman had childcare responsibilities. Traditional assumptions about who is the primary care giver could amount to sex discrimination.
"The end result of this case was a real life example of what could happen in workplaces all over Britain if flexible workplace practices are adopted," she said.
"We are in the 21st century where 70 per cent of couples both work and moving with the times is part and parcel of the business world."