Flexible Working

28th April 2015

A father who made a flexible working request was recently successful in a claim for sex discrimination at an Employment Tribunal. Erik Pietzka had requested to work part-time to enable him to visit his two year-old daughter who, following the breakdown of his marriage, was a four-hour drive away.

After initially having his request to work flexibly refused, Mr Pietzka was later given permission by his employer, a top 4 accountancy firm, to take one day off per week. However, his manager who dealt with the flexible working request had indicated that flexible working could damage his career prospects and Mr Pietzka was later overlooked for a promotion by his manager and subsequently raised two separate grievances which were not upheld by the employer. After handing in his resignation, Mr Pietzka brought a successful claim for sex discrimination on the basis that women who had requested flexible working were treated more favourably.

Whilst the firm has appealed the decision, this case serves as an important reminder that employers need to exercise caution when dealing with flexible working requests and employees who work to flexible working terms.

Since June 2014, all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service have the right to request flexible working under a new statutory scheme. An application for flexible working will normally begin after the employee has submitted a written request and the employer then has three months to consider that request. During this period, the employer should engage with the employee before notifying them of the outcome.

An employer is required to deal with these requests in a reasonable manner and whilst the request may of course be refused, it must be for one of eight business reasons, including where there might be a detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand or an inability to reorganise work among existing staff.

Discussing these requests with employees will help identify how any proposed changes could be successfully integrated into the business and importantly, having a clear flexible working policy is fundamental when it comes to maintaining positive relationships.

Perhaps it’s possible that cases such as these along with the forthcoming introduction of shared parental leave in April 2015, offering further employee rights to fathers, will go some way to help change perceptions among employees and their employers in relation to balancing work and family commitments.