Springhouse Solicitors

Changes to flexible working arrangements : sex discrimination

We report on an Employment Tribunal decision where Bannatyne & Fitness was found guilty of sex discrimination for trying to force an employee to work at weekends.

Background

Emma Halt, the Claimant in this case, had worked at her fitness centre for nearly 10 years under a flexible working agreement which meant that she did not have to work at weekends. This was to accommodate her childcare needs.

Bannatyne sought to change her rota so that she would have to work at weekends and without any additional benefits. Ms Halt looked for weekend childcare facilities in her area but was unable to find any.

Bannatyne dismissed her for her refusal to work weekends, and, for doing so, was subject to a finding of unfair dismissal (without any meaningful investigation) and for sex discrimination (because of the disproportionate impact on mothers and lack of justification.

£10,399 was awarded for the unfair dismissal and a further £8,000 for the injury to feelings caused by the discrimination.

Implications

The case acts as a warning for employers of the care that needs to be taken when dealing with flexible working situations. Although employers have a large discretion when it comes to flexible working requests, they will be well advised to make sure any refusals are legally justified.

Although we had expected there to be a shift against unfavourable childcare arrangements being indirectly discriminatory against women (because they affect more and more men who are principal carers as time goes by) this case shows there is a real danger of sex discrimination findings in this area.