BNP Paribas wins flex working ruling

A working mother has lost her legal claim against investment bank BNP Paribas for sex discrimination, victimisation and constructive dismissal after it turned down her request for flexible working.

Before returning to work after a year on maternity leave, Katharina Tofeji asked to work a four-day week so she could handle childcare commitments. But, BNP Paribas rejected her request on the basis that it would ‘restrict them’, and instead required her to work on the usual five-day basis.

Tofeji claimed that she then received hostile treatment on her return to work causing her to resign three weeks later.

The Employment Tribunal found that Tofeji had not been treated less favourably than her colleagues and her claims were rejected.

However, employers should not see this as an opportunity to deny employees the right to work flexibly.

James Davies, partner and joint head of employment and incentives at law firm Lewis Silkin, said: “[Employers] should not draw too much comfort from this decision, no doubt they will win and lose claims like this in the future.”

He added that it is often difficult for women with childcare responsibilities if they are required to work full time.

“Rejecting a request [for flexible working] can amount to discrimination unless the employer can justify doing so,” he said.

He added that being able to justify such a decision depends on the job in question and the extent to which the employer can show that they approached the request with an open mind.

“The key steps are to train staff; ensure decisions are transparent, consistent and well-documented; consult properly and with an open mind before reaching decisions; and don’t forget about staff on maternity leave,” said Davies.