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Father wins sex discrimination claim after flexible working request is refused

A recent tribunal case highlights the risk of discrimination claims if flexible working requests from men and women are not handled consistently.

Mr Pietzka, a manager with accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, requested to reduce his working week to visit his daughter following the breakdown of his marriage and subsequent relocation of his ex-wife. His request was rejected. When his daughter was first born, Mr Pietzka had made a flexible working request which was also rejected.

In turning down the request, Mr Pietzka’s colleague warned him that this would harm his career prospects. Mr Pietzka resigned after two unsuccessful internal grievances concerning the matter. He then raised a successful sex discrimination employment tribunal claim.

The tribunal found that the colleague who refused his request held “a subconscious view that flexible working on family grounds was suitable for female employees but not male employees.” Female employees in the same office who made flexible working requests met far less resistance.

This is not the first successful sex discrimination claim concerning flexible working by a male employee. In 2011 a train driver with childcare responsibilities won a claim when he was moved from a fixed roster to a flexible one and female employees were not.

All employees have a right to make a flexible working request, not just those with children. Employers no longer need to follow the statutory procedure and can use their own HR processes to handle requests. It is important to ensure these processes are fair and reasonable, and applied consistently, to avoid any discrimination.

Our Flexible Working note on BResourceFull summarises the right to request flexible working. It provides practical guidance on what a flexible working policy should cover and looks at how to deal with competing flexible working requests.

If you are not already a member of BResourceFull and would like to join, please send a registration request here.

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