Whiteman v CPS Interiors Ltd and others – no discrimination when homeworking request by new mother rejected

redmans-blog-analysisIn the case of Whiteman v CPS Interiors Ltd and others ET/2601103/2015 an Employment Tribunal held that the rejection by an interior design company of an employee’s request to work flexibly upon her return from maternity leave was not discriminatory and was handled reasonably.

Ms Whiteman was a full-time designer working for CPS Interiors Ltd (“CPS”), an interior design company. Upon Ms Whiteman’s return from maternity leave she made a flexible working request on 5 March 2015 for the following: 1) that her hours be reduced; and 2) that she be allowed to work from home (with occasional visits to the office) and that she do most of her work after 6pm. CPS held a meeting between the managing director of the company and Ms Whiteman on 14 or 15 April 2015 in which the managing director was “cautiously receptive” of the idea of her working from home but subsequently rejected that idea by way of a letter (dated 1 June 2015). Ms Whiteman appealed that decision on 12 June 2015 but the appeal was rejected on 25 June 2015 by a health and safety consultant who was instructed to undertake the appeal (and whose employer had close ties to CPS). The basis of CPS’s rejection of the request that Ms Whiteman work from home was the following: 1) that its collaborative way of work meant that designers often had to work in the same room when working on technical designs; and 2) that designs were often changed at short notice, something which it would be difficult to deal with if Ms Whiteman was working at home only in the evenings.

After the rejection of her appeal Ms Whiteman resigned on 2 July 2015, giving as the reason for her resignation the rejection of the flexible working request. Subsequent to her resignation the managing director of CPS offered to investigate her complaints under the company’s grievance procedure and offered her a seven-day period within which she could retract her resignation. Ms Whiteman refused these offers on 16 July 2015 and brought an Employment Tribunal claim for breaches of the flexible working legislation, constructive dismissal, and indirect sex discrimination.

The case came to the Employment Tribunal earlier this year, with the Employment Tribunal rejecting all of Ms Whiteman’s claims. The Employment Tribunal found that CPS had not breached the flexible working legislation as it had dealt with her flexible working request reasonably and had made a reasonable decision in rejecting her request. Further, although CPS had taken longer than three months to deal with the flexible working request the Employment Tribunal held that she had consented to an extension of the three-month deadline by the fact that she had appealed the rejection of her request on 12 June 2015.  The Employment Tribunal also held that the constructive dismissal claim was not well-founded (as CPS’s response to her flexible working request had been “perfectly proper”) and that there had not been indirect discrimination (principally as Ms Whiteman had failed to present evidence that women are placed at a particular disadvantage by the practice of not allowing homeworking).

Chris Hadrill, a partner in the employment team at Redmans, commented on the case: “If a flexible working request is made by an employee then an employer must deal with that request in a reasonable manner within a three-month time period (unless the deadline for the responses is extended by agreement). However, employers must also be careful that they do not make decisions on flexible working requests that are discriminatory in nature, for example by implementing a practice, criterion or policy which places new mothers at a particular disadvantage compared to other categories of workers. In this case the Tribunal found that the employer had dealt with the flexible working request in a reasonable and fair manner.”