Flexible Working and Sex Discrimination

Flexible Working and Sex Discrimination

A female cabin crew member has successfully won her claim for sex discrimination in the Employment Tribunal against her employers, Flybe.

Following the birth of her son, Emma Seville, who had 13 years’ service with the company, stated that she had considerable difficulty finding nurseries for her child due to the unusual working hours. Seville worked on a flexible rota – working any 22 days in a month. She asked to return on a fixed, pre-arranged-rota of 11 days per month.

This was rejected by her employers, who stated that there were already too many employees on fixed shift and that it would have a “detrimental effect on the business”. She then submitted a request for flexible hours or job sharing. This was also refused as it “could cause problems”. Following an internal appeal, Seville took the matter to the Employment Tribunal.

Right to request flexible working
Employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment can make a request for flexible working. This is a statutory right under the Employment Rights Act 1996. All requests must be considered by an employer. It is best practice for employers to have provisions in their staff handbook for making any such requests.

Seville claimed that she had been subjected to sex discrimination on the basis that female cabin crew were placed by their employers at a significant disadvantage compared with their male colleagues. Her additional claim for flexible working hours was ultimately unsuccessful in the Tribunal.

The Employment Tribunal said that, because cabin-crew was dominated by women of child-bearing age, this did indeed place women at a disadvantage compared to men. Flybe did not lose this because of its commercial reasoning. It faltered on its workplace practices and equality.

Implications for businesses
This case could potentially have a large impact on other sectors. Employers need to think carefully about the balance between a potentially detrimental effect upon their business and the possibility of discrimination. Rotas may need to be reviewed to ensure that discrimination laws are not breached. Both parties are currently negotiating an agreement. If this is not reached, the Tribunal will determine the amount of award.

If you would like to know more about:

• Flexible working requests;
• Workplace practices;
• Sex discrimination; or

Any other employment law issue, please contact euan.smith@macandmac.co.uk


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