Seeking Flexible Hours and the Right Work-Life Balance? Read This!

Employees who want to improve their work-life balance have a legal right to request flexibility in their working hours, and their bosses are obliged to respond reasonably. In a case on point, a seamstress was awarded compensation after her employer refused to give her Fridays off so that she could help care for her grandchildren.

SewingThe woman had worked as an invisible mender for a small business for many years. Her two initial requests to work 30, rather than 39, hours per week were rejected, prompting her to make a third, formal, request under Section 80F(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. After her proposal was again turned down, she resigned and lodged a complaint with an Employment Tribunal (ET).

In resisting her claim, the employer argued that granting her request would have imposed additional costs on a business which was already facing financial difficulties and struggling to meet customer demands and deadlines. It was very hard to recruit full-time staff with the necessary skills and reorganising work schedules would have had an unwelcome impact on other employees.

In upholding the woman’s complaint, however, the ET found that the employer had failed to act reasonably in circumstances where she had offered to help cover busy periods and was committed to completing work on time. She had not received the letter by which her employer rejected her request and much of the problem could have been averted by discussing the matter with her directly.

No meeting or telephone discussion had taken place; she had not been offered the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or work colleague, and she had been afforded no right of appeal. There were also no steps taken to ensure that she had received the refusal letter. In the circumstances, she was awarded £1,832 in compensation, the equivalent of six weeks’ pay.

Open Plan Offices Don’t Suit Everyone – Autistic Worker Wins Damages

Open plan officeOpen plan office spaces are preferred by many and make good business sense – but they do not suit everyone. An employer found that out to its cost after being ordered to pay substantial damages to an autistic worker who felt overwhelmed by his flexible working environment.

The analyst worked in an open plan setting with a busy walkway directly behind him. There was a flow of different personnel sitting near to him and his workstation was sometimes occupied by others. Constantly distracted by noise and smells, he felt that his colleagues were not supporting him. He eventually suffered what he described as a breakdown and was signed off sick by his GP.

Recommendations were made – including by his employer’s own occupational health department – in respect of reasonable adjustments that would be required to enable his return to work. However, none of them were implemented before the employer invoked its capability procedure and dismissed him at the end of his fixed-term contract.

After he brought proceedings, an Employment Tribunal (ET) noted that his line manager’s primary concern was the date of his return to work rather than his disability. No reasonable steps were taken to understand or cater for the substantial disadvantage that he endured when compared with his non-disabled colleagues.

In upholding his complaints of indirect disability discrimination and a failure to make reasonable adjustments, the ET found that the employer had used dismissal as a tool to rid itself of a disabled worker. The man was awarded a total of £34,458 in compensation, including almost £12,000 in respect of lost earnings and £9,500 for injury to his feelings.

Accusations of Gross Misconduct Do Not Always Justify Suspension

Where employees are accused of gross misconduct, suspending them on full pay pending a disciplinary investigation is all too often a knee-jerk reaction. However, such a step is not always justified and a firm of architects which fell into that trap found itself liable to pay a substantial compensation award.

Airport departures board 1The case concerned a senior architect who had exhausted her annual entitlement to paid leave but felt that she had to fly to Greece for two days in order to deal with an urgent family matter. Due to a misunderstanding, she believed that the additional leave had been authorised by her line manager.

After the firm refused permission on the evening before she was due to fly, she took the view that the die had by then been cast and embarked on her trip. She was immediately suspended on her return and her email account was blocked. She resigned shortly before a disciplinary hearing was due to take place and launched Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings.

In ruling on the matter, the ET found that the decision to suspend her was not taken due to concerns about her alleged misconduct but was motivated by the firm’s nervousness that she would be upset and make a scene in the office, setting a bad example to junior colleagues. The firm’s HR advisers appeared to have taken the view that any charge of gross misconduct would generally warrant suspension.

The firm had also acted unfairly in taking into account an incident the previous year which was also said to have resulted in her exceeding her holiday allowance. That matter had been resolved at the time and should not have been brought up again. After upholding her complaints of wrongful dismissal and unfair constructive dismissal, the ET awarded her a total of £34,083 in compensation.

In ruling on the firm’s challenge to that outcome, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that the ET was wholly justified in concluding that there was no fair reason for the woman’s suspension, which amounted to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence in her employment contact.

Arguments that she was partly to blame for her own dismissal and that she had failed to take adequate steps to mitigate her loss were also rejected. The EAT accepted that the reasons the ET gave for awarding her 40 weeks’ net loss of pay were inadequate. The same ET was directed to consider that issue afresh, but the firm’s appeal was in all other respects dismissed.