Labour Research January 2009

Law Queries

Indirect discrimination

Q: A member needs to leave half an hour early to collect her three-year old from nursery. She is willing to arrive half an hour earlier in the morning or work through her lunch break, but her supervisor is still refusing to agree. He says it would be favouritism and it isn’t fair to the other staff who would also like flexibility with their hours. Is this discriminatory?

A; Unless the employer can justify refusing to make this adjustment, it is probably indirect discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Whether or not the refusal is justifiable depends on the worker’s duties, why she needs to be there, who can cover her and so on. It is unlikely to be a good justification that other staff, who do not have childcare difficulties, would resent the fact that the worker has been “favoured”. The whole point about the law is to remove barriers for women with childcare responsibilities.

If she is eligible, that is, an employee with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service, the worker can start by making a formal request to amend her hours under the Flexible Working Regulations. This at least makes sure the employer sits down and consider the request properly, giving reasons as to why he is refusing.

Whether or not the worker uses this procedure, the type of legal claim which challenges the employer’s refusal is an indirect sex discrimination claim.