PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) has lost a sex discrimination case against an employee who wished to pursue work flexibly but had his request rejected.
Erik Pietzka, who was a manager at accountancy firm PWC’s office in Cardiff, was told by his employer that pursuing the idea of flexible working would damage his career, while women in the same office had requests accepted.
He raised the issue of flexible working in November 2010, seeking to work a three-day week because he was experiencing difficulties in his family life and wished to spend time with his daughter.
Pietzka’s request was initially denied but it was later agreed that he could take one day off a week.
The employment tribunal (ET) heard that the employee who dealt with Pietzka’s applications was of the belief that flexible working hours for family purposes were more suited to female workers than male workers, and “found it difficult to accept that the claimant would wish to put family issues above work”.
During Pietzka’s time at the organisation, PWC won several awards for diversity and gender quality. It also has both men and women across the organisation that work part-time and flexible hours. According to the ET, however, this inclusive culture did not extend to one senior employee.
Employers have been legally obliged to consider both mothers’ and fathers’request for flexible working since 2002.
A PWC spokesperson said: “The claim has now been withdrawn. PWC considers that it has behaved reasonably and appropriately to Mr Pietzka at all times in relation to his employment.”
Chris Wellen, of counsel at law firm Hogan Lovells, said: “Rules apply to both men and women. Sometimes it is a cultural assumption that when flexible-working requests are made, it is all about female employees.
“The Pietzka v PricewaterhouseCoopers case is a reminder to organisations, that in light of the introduction of shared parental leave and extension of flexible working, the culture is changing.
“More men will move into equality in terms of childcare and employers cannot now assume men do not have the same rights as women when it comes to make flexible working requests.
“The indication from the employment tribunal was that while PWC has put in a lot of diversity training there was one individual employee that I think had the subconscious view that flexible working grounds were not suitable for male employees.
“It is something employers have to get their heads around and should treat people equally regardless of gender. It is very much a cultural shift.”