Looking at all the possibilities
Q One of the teachers at our school is due to return to work from maternity leave shortly and has written to me asking that she be allowed to work part-time, missing the final two periods of every school day. She has stated that employment law requires the school to grant her request. I am worried that if I allow this I will be 'opening the flood gates'. What is the legal position?
A There is no legal obligation to permit parents to return to part-time work after child birth, when they were previously contracted to work full-time. However, you should not refuse these request unreasonably; if you do you could face a legitimate claim for constructive dismissal and sex discrimination. The school has a duty to look at all possibilities to try to accommodate a teacher's wishes for flexible working, but this does not mean that arrangements will be possible in all cases.
The 'opening the flood gates' argument is probably the worst argument that you could mount and would be considered unreasonable. However, you are likely to be justified in refusing this particular request on the basis that it would be extremely difficult to provide alternative staff cover just for two periods every day.You will need have evidence to back this up, rather than going on assumption. You would then want to explore alternatives with the employee, such as working half days or reducing the number of days per week, which would enable a job share arrangement.
Your major consideration in making this decision must be the students' education. The current rules on flexible working are more fully dealt with in July 2006 Leader (archived at www.leadermagazine.co.uk).
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