Estate agent fined £180k for refusing to let staff member leave work early

An estate agent in London has been ordered to pay more than £180,000 after refusing to allow a member of staff leave work early to collect her daughter from nursery.

Alice Thompson, who worked as sales manager for Manors estate agency, based in Marylebone, requested, after returning from maternity leave, that her boss permit her to work for four days a week and finish at 5pm, rather than 6pm, when nurseries usually close.

But company director Paul Sellar rejected her request. He claimed that the business could not afford for her to go part-time.

His decision forced Thompson to quit her job. But she did not go quietly.

Thompson, who earned £120,000 a year, took Manors to an employment tribunal claiming sex discrimination.

Employment judge Sarah Jane Goodman found she had been discriminated against by the denial of her request, calling it an ‘injustice because of her sex’.

The panel found that making her work until 6pm – when nurseries ordinarily close – was unfair.

Having won her case, she has been awarded £184,961.32 as compensation – the panel found that making her work until 6pm – when nurseries ordinarily close – was unfair.

The hearing was told that Thomson was ‘well thought of’ at work, but tensions with Sellar started after she revealed her pregnancy in Spring 2018.

At a party celebrating the news that summer, she claims she heard him tell a colleague, “I thought, for f***’s sake, why is she pregnant when we are doing so well? I was warned about employing a married woman of her age.”

Thompson also accused the company of ‘excluding’ her when staff were taken on a trip to New York and organised a booze-fuelled boat trip which she had to sit out.

Sellar described her as ‘ungrateful’ after complaining about of feeling ‘isolated’ as the trip cost him £25,000, the tribunal heard.

Thompson was also unhappy that she was told to hand in her work phone and office keys after going on maternity leave. But her feelings were dismissed by her bosses who, she claims, told her that was emotional due to her pregnancy.

Thompson, whose contract had no details on maternity leave, launched a grievance referring to her request to work flexibly and finally quit in December 2019.

Although the employment judge found Thompson had been discriminated against by the denial of her request, calling it an ‘injustice because of her sex’, she rejected other claims brought by the estate agent in relation to the alleged comments by Sellar.

The panel said: ‘It is plausible that this was said as an unguarded remark after an evening of eating and drinking.

‘It was not said to (her) face and possibly not in her hearing. In our finding, it was not harassment. If not said to her face, that was not its purpose; as an isolated remark, it lacked the strength to be intimidating or hostile.’



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  1. AlwaysAnAgent

    £120k a year and a 5pm finish every day? I might apply for the job.

    1. Bless You

      It’s official. Its now impossible to run a business .


      1. Ted.Nugents.Shirt

        Read it again.

        She earned 120k before going on maternity while in full time employment.

        I find it hard to believe that she returned from maternity and requested part time hours but with a 120k OTE.


    2. biffabear

      Certainly beats being your own boss these days.

      Employers NI has gone up again.  Tax on jobs.

  2. smile please

    Feel sorry for the employer here.

    They have a role that needs filling, employee they hired for the role wants to change the parameters they are hired under, employer in my eyes rightly says no and ends up with a fine.

  3. frostieclaret87

    I wonder if the judgement would have been the same if the applicant was a man?

  4. Stuart

    120k. That’s a very good earner in my eyes.. surely she signed up for a 6pm finish before she started banging out kids, so she knew the score,… and then walked out on 10 grand a month, who can afford to do that ?

    1. Bless You

      my money is on her husband being a lawyer.

    2. Diogenes

      “Banging out kids.” Seriously? What an appalling, disrespectful comment. Parents  deserve to have their needs considered. I was a single parent due to unforeseen circumstances. My employer was fantastic and supportive. I worked my guts out in appreciation.

      1. JWVW

        Snowflake – really…

    3. Tinkerbel0182

      “Banging out kids”?  You sound delightful.

      As a female agency owner with an all female team. ( I have employed males in the past for many years before anyone calls me sexist) but it just so happens it’s currently an all female team & they are all mothers.

      i, myself was made redundant many years ago when I decided to have a child and despite being the main fee earner and making my intentions to return to work very clear. No, I couldn’t possibly have a bump and a brain and was promptly made redundant.

      if you value your team members enough, you will find a solution which works for both the business & the individual.

      Covid / lockdown made us rethink how we work & we have never been so profitable with a happy, hardworking & loyal team on flexible hours. These women give 100% commitment and I / they couldn’t be happier.

      Perhaps these employers saw it as an “opportunity” to let this lady go.
      Who knows but in my opinion there is always a solution if you want the individual in your company.

      With a supportive employer, women can have children and a career & make your company money, go figure!!


  5. Ric

    Perhaps there is more to the story, as Stuart has pointed out…. what a gamble at £10k a month!


    If it was literally a case of “I want” and the tribunal with no other facts, decided the employer was found to be wrong, it is a joke this can happen. But do we know the full facts…


    Anyway… A new task one on today’s Jobs to do list: Remove all of today’s breaking news EYE emails from staff computers.

    1. Bless You

      Can we have a questions and answer on this.
      How was this supposed to be handled? 
      No employee should be able to dictate their hours to a businesss. If you don’t like it , you leave.
      I need educating obviously 

      1. Ric

        Tricky area all this. (I am sure there is someone with all the answers)
        I feel Paul Sellar’s pain (great EA name btw)
        If one of my team asked for this, I would have 60 to 90 minutes to cover at a pretty important part of the day.
        Sounds simple when you put it like that, as surely 1 other team member can handle the last hour.
        But I can’t book in a viewing now in that slot (or 3 viewings) because I have lost the office cover whilst one goes out.
        You cannot employ cover, i.e someone for 1 hour a day! (Well I suppose you can, but REALLY! honestly… come on… )
        I am sure asking the person wanting to leave early could offer to cover calls on their mobile whilst they go pick up the kids etc, But that is not as easy as you would think…. employee driving to pick up childs etc etc, so many combinations of not ideal when a client calls and your “professional service” is somewhat distracted… plus the next law suit will be EA fined for making employee answer phone in car!
        Can of worms perhaps this next one…
        What when the other staff members say “I want to leave early also” and then you can’t say no, because you said yes to another. Now we cannot be treating anyone differently to the next person. 
        Problem is, how did it play out…. perhaps the request was reasonable and we don’t know enough…
        But if one asked me today with no reasonable work around… I could not afford to cover their last hour, as it is often the last hour when the world and their partner decides to return the calls we have been making all day. 

    2. PossessionFriendUK39

      If you can’t afford  to pay for minding YOUR  Sprog on £10 K  a month, –  how do every other family manage.

  6. Colin Adiuvo

    I had wondered how this was discrimination but the article omits to mention this was a request after maternity leave (reported elsewhere), any employer needs to consider reasonable requests for a retuning staff member and refusing 4 hours flexibility was always going to cause issues if pursued.

  7. SoldPal90

    A few need to get with the programme here.  
    Employers dont like it (back) up ’em   
    Some crusty old agencies are still running their operations like Arkwight & Son and think they can do as they please.  You cant!

    1. smile please

      Labour supporting mid-20’s individual by any chance?


      How about if the employee does not like the contract they signed up to (which they knew about before starting employment) they look for another job which suits them NOT look to disadvantage an employer who has financially compensated them VERY well. Earning 100k plus a year they can pay the £25 per day for an individual to collect the child from nursery and bring home.

      1. SoldPal90

        No cigar!
        Classic short sighteded thinking. – ” an employer who has financially compensated them very well.”
        We are short on detail:
        Neverthless, ‘ll bet good money that her basic wage was bang average and she worked damned hard and was at the top of her game.
        Which means the employer has just lost a wedge of income on top of the slapped 4rse.

    2. Property Ear

      You’re clearly not an employer Soldpal – if you were, I’d like to work for you. If I did, I’d obviously be able to work whatever hours suited me and get paid shedloads for it!

      1. SoldPal90

        Come on PE.  An hour a day for someone clearly doing the business.
        She earns the business shedloads and the contract she signed up to means she gets a slice of that pie.  It didnt matter when it was a tuppeny h’apenny start up but now the employer doesnt like the contract as it seems too generous.  
        Anyway – There will have been a work around here but the employer probably viewed things differently whilst she was away on maternity.

      2. Colin Adiuvo

        Well I am an employer and if I didn’t give a team member 4 hours flexibility after maternity I would expect them to want to leave.

        Some of the comments here are frightening, thought we had evolved a little, although at least it means good people on the market for the right employers.

        1. smile please

          Tech / communications is VERY different to agency.


          Easy to work from home and have flexible hours


          When people finish work they want to view evenings or at weekends. 5.30 – 6.30 are some of our busiest times for instructions and viewings.

          My staff are contracted till 6pm but are often here until 7pm (through choice)

          If i have staff going home at 5pm it would have a negative impact on my business.

          Maybe the individual should have looked at a different employer or role.

          1. joah66

            Doesn’t this case highlight that maybe the industry needs to adapt and change to retain it’s talent?

            If your staff are often there until 7pm, maybe you should look at flexible working for all your staff. Some staff start late and work until 7pm and some start early and finish at 5pm. You can even rotate them if required – many jobs do this to ensure work/life balance and that staff are paid for the hours they work. Staff all have different personal lives and this can help you schedule.

            Maybe you should consider that your business IS your staff and you should work with them to earn that return. Attract the best talent and you’ll make more money!

            This woman was just asking for flexibility and I’m sure there could have been a conservation about what that means in terms of work pattern and duties. It’s unacceptable for modern company to not discuss this with the employee and look for solutions. This did not happen in this case.

          2. Colin Adiuvo

            Tech or communications is pretty reductive, we are dealing with 1000+ maintenance emergencies and 10,000 calls a week and rely on having our Customer Service staff and Property Managers available for all calls from 5pm to 9am the next working day. Some of my team are contracted til, for example, 1am on a midweek night and if they were to change hours that obviously has an effect on the other team members and our SLA’s to answer calls within an average of 30 seconds but If they want that change for family reasons and  to finish an hour early 4 times a week we still look to accommodate and work around it. If you have business that cant deal with those missing 4 hours I would suggest you might have operational problems.

            As said by a few here there are some dinosaur opinions here and even some very misogynistic ones (yours is not this obviously) and if they remain then those people that have them will lose talent to other forward thinking employers.

  8. BrotherSimon

    What a disappointing response. Firstly the £120k is not for the hours, it’s for the results – something that agency owners conveniently forget whenever it suits. Secondly she does not need to be in the office until 6, pointlessly wishing her life away in case some random walks in, she can service her clients perfectly well from wherever and to the predictable huffings and puffings from the old men out there if she does not work she does not earn. To me this agent is a dinosaur – he has in effect offended his entire demographic who are not boring, football banter riffing men but  – married ladies, of a certain age – if I was this guy’s competition I’d be on the phone to this lady, cheque book open, hours to be discussed… He’s there to be taken.

    1. AlexJones62

      100% agree.

    2. FAQs

      Agree BrotherSimon – looks like she is independent now.

    3. Property Ear

      You’re another soft touch Bro Simon – any jobs going?

      1. BrotherSimon

        Sorry, I need forward thinkers.

        1. Property Ear

          Try giving Michael Bruce a call – he’ll be twiddling his thumbs again soon!

  9. krosotv

    We don’t have the full story here.  As an employer the obligation is to reasonably consider the request for flexible working, the employee doesn’t have the right to it.  Either the agent didn’t prove it was reasonably considered or as i believe most employment tribunals are lost – he cocked up the paperwork trail.

  10. MrManyUnits

    Makes you wonder if it’s worth hiring ladies of this age ? or indeed if she will get another position in the business now ?

    1. KByfield04

      I didn’t realise we’d travelled back in time to the Victorian era! ‘ladies of this age’!? Let me guess- children should be ‘seen and not heard’?

      1. AcornsRNuts

        I’d prefer not to see children either!

    2. joah66

      Cases like this shoot for equality. We should be aiming for a world where both parents can choose to stay home. Both parents can choose to work flexibile hours. Or there is a choice to work extended hours. Whatever it is – flexibility and communication between employer and employee is key. 
      I hope a ‘man’ of that age one day tells you he wants to stay home with the kids for a year. And I hope you treat this well and with respect. 

      1. Property Ear

        Great April Fool – even if it’s 6 months late!

  11. Snyper

    Some ‘interesting’ comments from some individuals here; I hope some of you don’t run agencies that’s for sure…

    Tricky topic; on one had as a parent I’d love the flexibility and can only assume the boss in this case hadn’t handled the paper trail correctly to prove that the ‘flexible’ working had been considered but wouldn’t suit the needs of the business.

    Personally I start at 9 and do drop off and finish at 5:30; I can’t make it to pick up in time for 6 but my wife can – we work around it. As others have mentioned it opens a can of worms for the employer when others start asking for different start / finish times to suit them as well.

    Anyway, tricky topic, I honestly don’t have any idea on the answer for this one.

    1. Gloslet

      ‘I hope some of you don’t run agencies’ and ‘I honestly don’t have any idea on the answer’

      That’s a fail then – it doesn’t sound as if you should or could run your own agency. As a business owner you need to have the answers to situations like this – and to many others, and you need to be able to balance the needs of a motivated but cost effective work force, with making enough profit to justify the risks that you’re taking operating your own business.


  12. Russell121

    There’s a lot more to the story then her just asking for ‘time off’ but as usual it makes a great headline. You don’t have to be a big business to have human resource and law support in the guise of someone like the FSB. But it seems the boss thought he knew best. Like anyhing in our business, if you follow procedures then you don’t end up in that situation.   

  13. BrotherSimon

    Sorry, I need forward thinkers.

  14. Woodentop

    There is more to this story and the headline grabber gives one impression and then as one works through it another saga comes to light. Clearly more was said than the story is saying. The chances of finding in favour of been told to work to normal business hours was unreasonable conduct by the employer falls short on its own. Yes the politics today ‘requests’ employers give consideration on flexibility but it is not law to make them do it, therefore I find it difficult to see this was the only reason.


    The question is did they present a catalogue of bad feeling between the employee and the employer over time, highlighting ‘sexist’  which would have resulted in finding ‘her leaving’ as considered constructive dismissal? There are hints in the story that this is more likely, than a one off incident over hours.

    1. Colin Adiuvo

      I think most pertinant information was it was a request on return from maternity (as reported elsewhere).
      How an employer cant give 4 hours of flexibility in those circumstances is beyond me.

  15. AcornsRNuts

    The rights and wrongs of the case have been decided by others. What surprised me was that nobody has complained about the size of the award, especially when a woman being paid less than £2 per hour, forced to sleep in the cellar sand with no time off, received just £55,000.

  16. Ted.Nugents.Shirt

    Some real poison in these comments. Looks like the comments on a Daily Mail article.

  17. KByfield04

    Wow peeps- some very worrying comments on here! Firstly- income: we all know £120 would have been tied to performance so she clearly smashed her job hence her big income. With sales properties listed at up to £14m and letting up to £20k A WEEK the fee generation would have been sums inconceivable to vast swathes of the country. What is more, premium agents will often charge at least 2% sales and 17% (+VAT & extra costs) to let and manage- meaning a typical sale would generate them probably £40k a pop and a let & manage £15-20k.

    Many people can work restricted hours and deliver the same performance. This has been trialled and proven numerous times- most recently in Iceland and Scotland are now trialling a 4 day work week initiative. Businesses have to be more understanding and flexible- and for quality staff that should be what a business wants to do to retain talent.

    Our Head of PM wanted to relocate to Suffolk 2.5 years ago- we fully supported this move. It means one less person in the office but the quality of life he gets, means his diligence in fulfilling his role is off the charts.

    We can continue to do things the way they’ve always been done, and bemoan people that have established, successful careers who then want to find a balance with work and family or we can try the unknown to see if a better way of working can be found.

    As for some of the comments on here- run them by your wives/sisters/mothers when you get home tonight and see if they agree or you end up with a stinging red cheek or two!?

  18. conoco9

    Karen of the highest order this one!

  19. PaulC

    Few points when someone is on maternity they are not entitled to any form of bonuses or incentives issues to staff in normal employment. If the bonus or incentive is as a reward for the performance while they are on maternity leave.

    However if she was in work for part of the period that the trip was rewarded for this would have been discrimination.

    So I suspect she already had that aspect of descrimanation.

    Then it depends how hard the agent tried to accommodate the request.

    If they made no effort and just said its this or you go (Which might have been the stance) then they have not been reasonable and hence the likely award.

    Got to be so careful..

    I always bend over backwards and love my part timers who I think appreciate the flexible working we allow after child birth.

    But there is no doubt it creates more than a few rota headaches.

  20. DASH94

    The thing with this situation is that whilst looking like a good result for the employee actually means that the employer will favour male applicants over female ones in future.   Its counter productive and would have been better if she’d tried to find a reasonable compromise with her employer.

    Things like this make it very hard for women in the workplace

    1. joah66

      Reading the details of the case – it sounds like she went out of her way to make reasonable requests but no dialogue was entered into by the employer.

      You are right that sadly some employers will discriminate further against women – but hopefully with this case, and others that encourage equality in the workplace – that more employers look to champion diversity, inclusion and flexibility into their businesses. Flexible working should benefit ALL (childless too!) and so all should get on board and support it.

  21. Rose

    We have employment laws for a reason.
    Estate Agency isn’t above the law.  What is clear from these embarrassing comments though is the sector is full of men stuck in the dark ages!
    From my experience women work twice as hard whilst at work, multi task, juggle home and work life and still bring in the results.  When a man can do that, then they can make judgement.

    1. 0racle

      Quite possibly the most sexist comment of them all….


      1. biffabear

        Men. Clearly. Need to get back in their boxes and do the washing up.

  22. PossessionFriendUK39

    If you earn  £ 120 K a year,  you should be able to pay someone to pick up or look after  your sprog until you finish work.
    Lots of families have to do that on a lot less money.  !


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