Flexible working decline wins postman £22,000.00


One of the things that can frustrate a small business owner is when staff ask to work flexibly and the business owner can’t, or won’t, accommodate the request. Under the flexible working guidelines there are only a set number of reasons why a request can be declined. However, a Company does need to look carefully at all angles and see if they can work something out for the employee. It must be said that the larger the organisation, the harder it would appear to be to decline such requests.  Below I’ve copied an article from People management where the Royal Mail had proposed to change the shift patterns for postmen and in response a postman submitted a flexible working request. This case is a little more complex than a straight forward shift change and subsequent flexible working request though, please do read the full article.

If you have a flexible working request that you’re struggling with, or have accepted a change to working hours, but have not formally changed the contract, please do call me.

Worker requested flexible working to cover childcare; lawyers warn case shows the risks of altering hours

A former postman was unfairly and constructively dismissed when he resigned over a dispute about his shift patterns, a tribunal has decided.

Manchester Employment Tribunal heard that Adam Gregory, who was awarded £22,000, had worked as a postman for Royal Mail since 1993. He has a daughter from a former marriage and, under an access agreement, sees her at weekends. Because of this, in 2012, Gregory approached his then line manager to limit his working days to Monday through Friday. The line manager allowed this and Gregory signed a letter acknowledging the new working pattern, but his official employment contract was not changed.

In 2015, Royal Mail started a restructuring exercise which was likely to change the way duties were carried out at the Burnley office, where Gregory worked. A questionnaire to determine employees’ working preferences was sent out. Gregory was on holiday at the time, so his union representative picked his preferences for him and selected a duty which would require Gregory to work three Saturdays a month.

When Gregory returned from holiday and discovered what had happened, he objected and submitted a new flexible working request. One of the postman’s managers considered the new request but rejected it, claiming it was partly because the work could not be reorganised among staff. Gregory appealed the decision, but this was also rejected.

Shortly after the failed appeal, around September 2015, the postman took time off sick with stress. In April 2016, while he was still off sick, his solicitor sent Royal Mail a letter to raise a formal grievance on behalf of his client. Royal Mail then acknowledged that Gregory’s contract, as far working hours were concerned, had been altered in 2012.

Gregory returned to work in May 2016 under a phased return and not working Saturdays. However, after Royal Mail sent him a letter in June 2016 confirming he was to work three Saturdays a month, Gregory resigned. Although he initially claimed job seeker’s allowance, he started working as a painter and decorator in January this year.

Allowing Gregory’s unfair dismissal claim, Judge Holmes said “it was not physically impossible for [Royal Mail] to maintain his Monday to Friday working pattern, it was merely unsatisfactory, inconvenient, and more costly”.

Gregory was awarded £10,577 as a basic award for unfair dismissal, £8,486.29 as a compensatory award, and £3,008.43 for breach of contract. Royal Mail was also told to pay costs of £4,012.50.

“This ruling shows the risks that employers face when trying to change working hours, particularly where contracts have been varied to accommodate childcare arrangements,” Laurie Anstis, employment law director at Boyes Turner, told People Management. “While the employer in this case had originally operated its flexible working scheme properly, it ran into trouble when there was a later reorganisation of working arrangements at the depot.”

Ben Stepney, senior associate at Thomson Snell & Passmore, added: “An employer cannot unilaterally change an employees’ contract of employment. Even if the contract has a clause entitling the employer to do so, the clause must be very clear and be exercised in a manner that does not undermine the relationship of mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee.”

Gregory also brought claims for detriment for having made flexible working applications, but he later withdrew this, and sex discrimination, but this was dismissed.

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Royal Mail accepted the findings of the employment tribunal and the judgment has been paid out to the former employee some time ago.”

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