Police Scotland has signed an agreement with Britain’s national equality body, committing to take all reasonable steps to prevent sex discrimination against female officers who request flexible working arrangements.

This came about after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) decided that the findings of a discrimination case against the Chief Constable of the Police Service in Scotland had not been fully implemented.

An employment tribunal found that Fiona Mair had been unlawfully discriminated against when she was refused permission to work flexibly. She sought the opportunity to continue to work full-time hours, but on a flexible basis so she could look after her child.

Police Scotland refused the application because divisional practice was that officers should start and finish within their core shift hours.

The tribunal found that this practice provided little or no flexibility and disadvantaged single parents, who are predominately women. In denying Ms Mair’s application for flexible working, Police Scotland had failed to balance the impact on her compared with the relatively minor adjustments needed to accommodate the request.

EHRC Head of Legal in Scotland, Lynn Welsh, said: “Flexible working is intended to give carers in particular the flexibility that they need to provide care for children or older people without having to leave their jobs. We are heartened that Police Scotland have now recognised that not supporting flexible working could impact on female officer’s progression and pay.”

Section 23 of the Equality Act 2006 allows the Commission to enter into such agreements with another party. In return, it agrees not to conduct an investigation using its powers under s.20 of the same Act.

The agreement will last for 16 months during which time Police Scotland will implement the steps set out in a joint action plan, and report back to EHRC on its progress.

Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor, Lead for Professionalism, Police Scotland, said: “Signing this agreement with the EHRC signals our ongoing commitment to supporting our officers and staff and to mainstreaming equality in our day-to-day decision making”.

Comment from Peninsula Employment Law Director Alan Price

Being able to work flexible hours can be very helpful for working parents, enabling them to retain their positions and not have to take prolonged periods of time out of their career.

This can help avoid employers losing otherwise valuable members of staff and reassure their existing workforce that options are available to assist them if they do wish to start a family, encouraging their loyalty.

Although employers do not have to allow flexible working, and this outcome places no legal obligation upon them to do this, they should remember that they do have a legal duty to consider all requests for flexible hours submitted after an employee has worked for them for over 26 weeks.

Last reviewed 13 March 2019