July 8, 2021

What is “childcare disparity” and why is it important that HR managers understand its implications in the workplace?

Such is the implication of the Employment Appeal Tribunal judgment in Dobson v North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust.

The case and they judgment

The claimant was dismissed by her employer after it made flexible working mandatory, including working weekends. The claimant had limited her working hours to 15 per week so that she could care for her three children, but was dismissed after she raised a grievance about the new flexible working rota arrangement. She argued that the new rules discriminated against women with childcare responsibilities.

The decision is particularly timely as studies during the pandemic have shown that women have been bearing the brunt of home schooling and childcare. Last year, official data showed that during the first month of the first UK lockdown women were carrying out on average two thirds more of the childcare duties per day than men. Now, more than 12 months and three lockdowns later, a new survey commissioned by the BBC suggests that this position has not changed.

This decision has widely been viewed as a victory for working mothers who have long been required to balance working with childcare responsibilities, and has been welcomed by Working Families, the charity that supported the claimant in her case.

Points to note for HR managers

The ruling sends a clear message to employers: working mothers with child caring responsibilities should not be penalised if the need for child care means they are unable to work flexibly.

When devising procedures and practices, employers need to identify whether their approach might disadvantage a particular group of employees and if so should only proceed if they can objectively justify what might be seen as indirect discrimination.

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