A former estate agent employee has been awarded £185,000 in compensation by an employment tribunal, after her request to adjust working hours for childcare reasons was rejected.

While the final decision on this case was reached due to acts of sex discrimination by the company, the acts and omissions that led to the discrimination arose from the management of the flexible working request. This clearly indicates the risks involved with managing flexible working requests.

The case – Mrs A Thompson v Scancrown Ltd T/a Manors

Alice Thompson, who worked as a Sales Manager for a London-based estate agent, had become pregnant in 2018 and subsequently went on maternity leave.

Upon her return to work, Mrs Thompson highlighted to management that her new childcare responsibilities would involve collecting her daughter from nursery during the week. This led to her submitting a flexible working request, with her new working hours being reduced to four days a week, finishing at 5pm rather than 6pm as previously.

A director at the company refused to consider Mrs Thompson’s request, stating it would be impossible to accommodate her preferences. Financial reasons were cited for this, alongside the suggestion that part-time work would result in a failure to meet customer demand and reorganise work between employees.

Mrs Thompson’s initial response was that she would be happy to consider an alternative working schedule, which may be more suited to the company’s preferences. However, there was no further cooperation beyond this point, and the company’s decision to reject the request was deemed as final.

In December 2019, Mrs Thompson decided to resign from her position and submit a grievance about the way her flexible working request was managed.

“An injustice because of her sex”

During the hearing for Mrs Thompson’s claim, her long-standing success in the Sales Manager position was discussed, evidenced by her annual salary which reached £120,000 with commission and bonuses.

The judge also heard of management’s negative response to her pregnancy in 2018. This was summarised by comments from a company director, who implied that employing women was unfavourable due to the impact of maternity leave on business performance.

After considering all findings, it was ruled that Mrs Thompson had been subjected to discrimination by the rejection of her flexible working request. This was described by the judge as “an injustice because of her sex” and £185,000 was awarded in compensation for loss of earnings, loss of pension contributions, and injury to feelings.

What can employers learn from this case?

This case shows the importance of following a fair process for flexible working, while demonstrating a careful and serious consideration of any submitted requests.

If a flexible working request is to be rejected by an employer, it must be for one of the following reasons:

  • the burden of additional costs
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demands
  • an inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • a planned structural change to the business

However, as shown by the acts of the company in this case, employers must also provide evidence to support any of the reasons cited above. Furthermore, it is crucial to consider the possibility of a compromise on requested arrangements, as this can be pivotal in avoiding expensive employment tribunal claims.

If you would like to receive tailored guidance from our team on how to manage flexible working requests correctly, call us today on 0345 076 2288 or send us an email.