An employment tribunal has ruled in favour of a WPC who said she could not work shifts that conflicted with her childcare arrangements. PC Michelle Chew, 36, a single mother of two, had claimed she needed to work regular hours that fitted in with the opening times of her childrens' nursery.
Beat work can involve anti-social shifts as well as long and irregular hours if, for example, an officer becomes involved in dealing with a crime or serious incident.
The tribunal decided the Somerset Force sexually discriminated against her because it failed to provide her with a suitable job. Its ruling could have far-reaching implications not only for the police but also for thousands of other public sector shift-workers, including nurses, female firefighters and council employees.
Ms Chew spent 10 years with the force, the last seven of them working for the child protection unit, where hours were more regular than beat work, and night working was rare. However, she was compelled to move by the now defunct 'rule of tenure', which allowed police men and women to work in the same post only for strictly limited periods. She said: 'I applied for jobs in CID and as a uniformed officer but was knocked back every time because they were not prepared to accomodate my request for regular shift patterns.'
Her applications were consistently turned down by Superintendent Mike Nelson, a divisional commander who has since retired. The rules were upheld by Avon and Somerset assistant chief constable Martin Richards.
The employment tribunal in Bristol accepted Ms Chew's claim that she was indirectly discriminated against because she could only work shifts that fitted in with the opening hours of her childrens' nursery.
Tribunal chairman Colin Sara said: 'There is no indication that Supt Nelson had any insight into the applicant's plight or her resilience in seeking to maintain a police career while bringing up two small children on her own.' The tribunal said the force made no effort to assist Ms Chew in finding appropriate childcare and had no policy of supporting childcare places for any officers given the unsocial working patterns expected of them.