Q: I am due to return to work at the beginning of next month after taking 12 months’ maternity leave. At a ‘re-familiarisation’ meeting with my line manager last week I was told that when I go back I will have to work different hours to those I worked previously.
I explained that due to school and nursery closing times it will be impossible for me to do that but I was told that even if I don’t sign a new contract I will be showing my acceptance of the altered hours just by turning up for work. The contract I signed when I started the job seven years ago states my hours are 8.30am to 4.30am with half an hour for lunch, now they want me to work 9am to 5.30pm and take an hour for lunch. I really need this job, what should I do?
A: Your employer cannot change your hours without giving you written notice and gaining your consent. Without such they would be making a unilateral change that would constitute a breach of contract. In addition they would be leaving themselves open to you making a valid claim for sex discrimination as you are a mum who will have difficulty working around their new proposed hours.
As a parent with responsibility for your children you have the right to request a flexible working arrangement from your employer. This includes part-time working, staggered hours, home working and job sharing. Whilst your employer has a duty to seriously consider your request, he or she is unfortunately not obliged to accommodate it. If they do not have a good business reason for refusing, however, you may be able to rely on sex discrimination law to challenge their decision.
In the first instance you should consider taking your contract to an employment solicitor and asking their advice.