The case of Mrs L Hodgson -v- Martin Design Associates Limited is a very useful indicator of what not to do when responding to a flexible working request and resulted in an unfavourable outcome for the employer.
In 2018 the claimant, Mrs Hodgson, requested to work from home, as many of her male colleagues were already allowed to do so. The reason she gave for wanting to work from home was her adult son’s mental health – her son had been also diagnosed and treated for leukaemia in 2018. In a prime example of how not to handle a flexible working request, the respondent (the claimant’s employer), Mr Martin, denied her request stating he did not find her reasons as compelling as that of other colleagues. Mr Martin and his wife, a secretary for the respondent, also advised that they did not think it was in the best interest of the claimant’s son for her to be around all the time.
The claimant brought a claim for direct sex discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal, using two of her male colleagues as comparators.
Considering the evidence
The Tribunal considered Mr Martin’s evidence that he would have similarly refused a request of a male colleague who was at the bedside of a family member with cancer. However, they did not accept this evidence and also held that Mr Martin would have accepted that a male colleague was best placed to know what he could and could not do in the circumstances. The same could not be said for how he reacted to the claimant, as he had suggested her son would be better off not having the claimant around all the time – despite giving no indication as to why he held this belief. The Tribunal further noted that he seemed to think he knew best and therefore would make decisions as he saw fit – without properly considering all of the circumstances and with no credible reasons as to why he made the decisions he did.
The Tribunal held that in failing to allow the claimant to work remotely and be with her son, Mr Martin seriously damaged trust and confidence, particularly considering the claimant knew he had already allowed male colleagues to work remotely. The Tribunal added that they did not believe Mr Martin had reasonable and proper cause for his failure and that he had a ‘closed mind’ to the idea of the claimant working remotely.
Unsurprisingly, the claimant was successful in her claims for direct discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal. She was awarded compensation in the total sum of £59,612.58.
Essentially when an employee puts in a flexible working request such as this, employers need to ensure they consider all of the circumstances properly and that they treat all employees fairly and in a consistent manner. It is important to note that if the employer had genuine concerns that their employee would be carrying out caring responsibilities and not actually working then the outcome could have been different. When an employee is working from home that is what they should be doing – not carrying out other activities. However, there always has to be an element of reasonableness, and if the employee can demonstrate they are able to fulfil their duties from home then an employer should consider granting the request.