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Case law: Court clarifies when employers may 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.

Legal Alert

This update was published in Legal Alert - December 2016

Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.

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

Recommendations

  • 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

Disclaimer: This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.