Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Make Flexibility Laws Work for You

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Make Flexibility Laws Work for You

Article excerpt

Byline: Niki Chesworth

MANY employees now have the "right" to request flexible work but, as employers have a number of reasons for refusing these requests, the legislation can seem "toothless" according to leading employment lawyer Samantha Mangwana from Slater & Gordon.

However, she says there are ways to word a request to make it much more difficult for your employer to say no.

"The first step is to understand your rights," says Mangwana. "Particularly for working mothers as the law is very much on your side."

In addition to the "right" to request flexible working, women with childcare responsibilities may find that sex discrimination legislation protects them even if this is "indirect" discrimination -- where men and women are on the face of it treated the same, but women are, in fact, at a serious disadvantage.

"The most common example of this is with flexibleworking requests," says Mangwana. "If no one is allowed to change their hours, work part-time or from home, that may seem to be one rule for all, fair to both men and women. But the approach of the tribunals is to recognise the reality that women bear the lion's share of childcare responsibilities, and so a rule like this is far more likely to operate against women in the workplace.

"This indirect discrimination is potentially unlawful and a tribunal would expect employers to prove why a request to work flexibly could not work in practice, or rule it unlawful.

"That is why it is important to carefully craft each request to make it as practical and reasonable as possible -- therefore unlawful for the request to be refused. We help people to draft their flexible working requests so that they make the right points and we talk through the practicalities to come up with suggestions on alternative ways of working. After all, if the request is unreasonable, there is no point in asking for it. Put yourself in the position of your employer. Is there a particular need for a person to be there for client coverage, for example? Even then, is there any other way to go about working flexibly to avoid these issues?" Mangwana says that some employers refuse requests for fear of setting a precedent. …

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