The Equal Treatment Act was amended with effect from 8 March 2013, and parents are now allowed to work reduced hours or adapt their working patterns when returning from maternity leave.

The amendment

The amendment came into force on 8 March 2013 and implements parts of the new EU Parental Leave Directive initiating the revised framework agreement concerning parental leave entered into by the European labour market parties.

The amendment makes it possible for parents returning from leave or absence under sections 6-14 of the Maternity Leave Act to request changed working hours or patterns for a specific period. The request must be in writing, and the employer must consider the request and give a written answer within reasonable time, which is usually within 14 days.

Further, the amendment also specifies the law text. Several parts of the text have been changed to cover not only dismissal during maternity leave, but also "less favourable treatment" during maternity leave. In practice, this does not involve any actual change as material changes in connection with maternity leave are already comparable to dismissal today.

Consequences

The Act gives employees returning to work after maternity leave the opportunity to arrange their working hours in relation to having children.

Parents returning from maternity leave are not entitled to adapted working hours or patterns, but only to the employer deciding on a request and providing a written answer. But the purpose has been to put pressure on the employer receiving a written request about changed working hours or patterns as the employer is now obligated to consider the possibility and to provide a written answer under the Act. This will presumably result in more employees being granted reduced working hours for a period and having the working hours adapted on return.

The written answer

An employer receiving a request from an employee concerning adapted working hours, reduced hours, etc. must consider his grounds carefully. Even though the employer is not obligated to grant the employee's request, we will presumably see a number of cases where employees claim compensation due to unreasonable refusals. We therefore recommend that all requests are taken seriously, and that refusals are based on operational grounds.

Sanctions in case of non-compliance

A violation of the provision is not subject to sanctions, neither in relation to the employer's failure to answer the written request or to a refusal. However, the protection against dismissal in section 9 of the Equal Treatment Act has been expanded with the result that the employer may not dismiss an employee as a consequence of him/her having requested adaptation of working hours etc.

The content of this Newsletter is not, and should not replace, legal advice.

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Marianne Lage

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