One in five working mums denied flexible working and forced to leave jobs



New survey shows more than three-quarters did not appeal employer’s decision; Workingmums urges policymakers to reinstate ‘statutory right of appeal’

Nearly one in five (18 per cent) working mothers have been forced to leave their jobs because a flexible working request has been turned down, according to a new survey.

More than a quarter (26 per cent) of women in work had flexible working requests rejected and 12 per cent felt their employer did not consider their request, found the Workingmums Annual Survey 2016.

More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of women who were on maternity leave and had a flexible-working request refused believed it was not justified. Nearly four-fifths (79 per cent) did not appeal the decision. Two-fifths (41 per cent) of women on maternity leave said a refusal to accommodate flexible working would mean they wouldn’t return to their job after the leave period ended.

Since 2014, all UK employees who have worked with an organisation for more than six months are legally entitled to request flexible working. But Workingmums said women needed to be better educated about their right to request flexible working options, and its founder, Gillian Nissim, urged policymakers to consider reinstating a ‘statutory right of appeal’ if a request is turned down.

She said: “This would send an important message to employers that they must give serious consideration to requests and not just dismiss them out of hand.

“While flexible working may not be possible in some cases, it is worrying to see that 12 per cent of women who said their request had been turned down did not feel it was even considered at all. Under flexible working legislation employers have a duty to deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’.”

The survey of more than 2,000 women also found that 22 per cent of those who were on maternity leave had had their flexible working requests refused before returning to work. Reasons given by employers included: ‘It would have a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demands’ (21 per cent); ‘It will be impossible to reorganise work among existing staff’ (23 per cent); and ‘There were already planned structural changes’ (17 per cent).

Almost three-fifths (59 per cent) of women said they felt they had to work harder to overcome unconscious bias against working mums and flexible workers. More than half (53 per cent) said more flexible working would help with their career development, and 50 per cent wanted to see more flexible job opportunities advertised.

Rachel Suff, employment adviser at CIPD, said: “Women still bear a disproportionate responsibility for caring responsibilities; combined with a lack of flexible working opportunities this is a major factor preventing women accessing, and progressing at, work.

“Women now make up nearly half the workforce, and many will have children, and so it’s in employers’ interest to retain working mothers who are a valuable source of talent. Unless there is a very strong business case to the contrary, employers should make every effort to accommodate flexible working requests and discuss with an employee what could work in order to retain that person – the cost of re-recruitment and training should serve as a strong disincentive to losing working parents.”

Offering flexible hours for full-time jobs was rated as the highest factor in a ‘family friendly company’ (80 per cent), compared to extended maternity pay periods, networking and support groups, parenting courses and childcare help.

Nissim added: “There is still more to be done to create the kind of workplaces that work for people who need flexibility, for whatever reason. That means encouraging and supporting employers to implement flexible working so that they do not lose employees who typically have years of experience in their roles.”

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