Rigid flexibility: the work of the Working Families Legal Advice Service in 2014
Simon is a single parent working for a provider of services to the elderly. Although employed on a zero-hours contract, Simon has always worked five full days, including Saturday and Sunday, each week. After an unavoidable change in his childcare arrangements, Simon made a formal request to swap the weekends for two days in the week. However, this has been refused by his employer, and Simon fears he may have to give up his job.
Simon is just one of the 2,766 working parents and carers – 85 per cent of them women, and one in four a single parent – who telephoned or emailed the Working Families legal advice helpline in 2014. The helpline team provides free advice on key work-life balance rights such as maternity and paternity leave and pay, and unpaid parental leave. They provide help with requesting and negotiating flexible working – or with contesting imposed changes to an existing working arrangement – and with challenging pregnancy, maternity or other discrimination at work. And they offer advice on relevant in-work benefits and tax credits.
However, the helpline team does much more than offer information and advice: they coach callers to negotiate with their employer to find a mutually beneficial solution that, wherever possible, enables them to remain in their job. And, should the employer prove to be unreasonably intransigent, the team can support the caller through formal grievance procedures and, where appropriate, making an employment tribunal claim.
Amid the biggest living standards crisis in a generation, and with research reports by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the London School of Economics suggesting that the Coalition Government’s tax and benefit reforms have hit families with children under five harder than any other household type, 2014 was another busy year for the helpline team.