It’s common for employees on maternity leave to informally request a return to work on a part-time basis. If they do so, this information will help you to arrange a meeting to discuss their request in the most effective way
Flexible working procedure
Employees returning from maternity leave will normally qualify for the statutory right to request flexible working under your flexible working policy.
In some cases, the employee will ignore that procedure, e.g. by sending an email requesting a part-time working arrangement on their return. You can’t ignore such a request or tell them to complete our flexible working application form if you have one because of the risk of an indirect sex discrimination claim.
Indirect sex discrimination
A refusal to permit a woman to return to work from maternity leave on a part-time basis may result in a claim of indirect sex discrimination as a provision requiring employees to work full time has a disproportionately adverse impact on women, as they are more likely to be the primary child carers.
If your full-time work requirement has a detrimental impact on the employee, you’d need to be able to objectively justify this as being a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate business aim.
Where an employee has requested a return to work from maternity leave on a part-time basis, don’t assume that you can just follow the flexible working process and deny their request by citing one of the statutory business grounds. That won’t prevent an indirect sex discrimination claim.
Our new Maternity Part-Time Work Request – Meeting Invitation has been drafted to take account of the statutory flexible working provisions, and the Acas Code of Practice on Handling in a Reasonable Manner Requests to Work Flexibly .
It invites the employee to a meeting to discuss their request, allows them to be accompanied by a work colleague and sets out what will happen following the meeting.
Continue as normal
We recommend that you continue to treat the employee’s part-time work request as you would a statutory flexible working request, including giving them a right to appeal if you reject their request. You can use our various flexible working letters here.
The purpose of the meeting is to see whether the part-time work request could work in practice and, if not, to explore alternative work patterns, such as different working days to those the employee has asked for. You should then properly consider the request, make a detailed practical business assessment on it and notify your decision to the employee in writing as soon as possible. There’s no need for a meeting if you’re happy to agree to the part-time work request as it stands.