What happens if an employee who works full-time asks to work part-time?
Women on maternity leave frequently ask to return to work on a part-time basis in order to effectively juggle their work and care responsibilities.
Employees with 26 continuous weeks of service have a statutory right to request flexible working, but there is no right to flexible working. This means that new mothers have the right to ask, but they do not have an automatic right to demand that their hours are reduced when they return to work.
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Employers must, however, consider the request in a reasonable manner and can only say no a request for a clear business reason.
Dealing with requests
You should sit down with the employee and discuss the different options. Think about the nature of their role; the size of your organisation and your resources; whether there are any issues in agreeing to their request; what other options could be explored and if it would cause disruption to the business.
Unless agreed otherwise, their application should be dealt with, from start to finish, within a period of three months from the first receipt. This includes dealing with any appeals.
Beware of the risks
Employers should be aware of the risk of indirect discrimination – this may be the case if your refusal for them to work part-time is not objectively justified.
Indirect discrimination occurs when a company’s policies, procedures or rules which apply to everyone has the effect that people with a certain protected characteristic (for instance, sex) are put at a disadvantage when compared with those who do not share it.
As an employer, you may justify indirect discrimination by showing that this policy or procedure was objectivity justified. This means that there must be a real business need and it is a proportionate means of achieving this aim.
Therefore, if you require all workers to work full-time hours, it is likely to have a more negative effect on women because they tend to be the primary carers for their children and you would need a genuine business reason to justify it.
If you are in doubt of the protections extended to pregnant employees or those returning from maternity leave, seek advice at the earliest opportunity from our Employment Law Advisers.
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