Adam Gregory worked as a postman for Royal Mail since 1993. He has a daughter from a former marriage, and under an access agreement, he sees her at weekends. Because of this, Gregory approached his line manager in 2012 to limit his working days Monday to Friday. The line manager allowed this and Gregory signed a letter acknowledging the new working pattern.
In 2015, Royal Mail started a restructuring exercise which was likely to change the way duties were carried by Mr Gregory. A questionnaire to determine his working preferences was sent to Mr Gregory, but as he was on holiday at the time, his union representative picked his preferences for him and selected a duty which would require Gregory to work three Saturdays a month.
When Mr Gregory returned from holiday and discovered what had happened, he objected and submitted a flexible working request. The request was rejected on the basis that the work could not be reorganised among staff. Mr Gregory appealed the decision, but this was also rejected.
Shortly after the appeal, took time off sick with stress from September 2015 until May 2016 when Mr Gregory returned under a phased return not working Saturdays. However, after Royal Mail sent him a letter in June 2016 confirming he was to work three Saturdays a month, Mr Gregory resigned.
Mr Gregory’s claim for unfair dismissal was successful and was awarded £10,577 as a basic award, £8,486.29 as a compensatory award, and £3,008.43 for breach of contract. Royal Mail was also told to pay costs of £4,012.50.
This ruling highlights the risks employers face when employees want to change their working hours and/or submit a flexible working request.
An employer cannot unilaterally change an employees’ contract of employment. Even if the contract of employment contains a clause entitling the company to do so, the clause must be very clear and be exercised in a manner that does not undermine the relationship of mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee.