UK employment law states that you don’t have to have parental responsibility for children or caring responsibilities to request flexible working. Anyone can submit a flexible working request provided that they are an employee who has worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks and aren’t in one of the groups of employees who are not entitled to ask for flexible working e.g. agency workers.
Under the Children and Families Act an employer who has received a completed application for flexible working must consult with the employee, and is bound by set terms on which he/she can refuse the application which can only be made once a year. This gives equity to any applicant whether childless or not because they may have other dependants or reasons why they are applying for flexible working.
Likewise discrimination is totally covered by the Equality Act 2010 and codes of practice in respect thereof. Any employee must have one of the set protected characteristics – disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.
A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if, because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others.
Bearing the above in mind it is hard to see how childless employees do not have equal rights to any other employees in our democratic society.
In practice however, it might be that childless employees feel that they are treated differently in the small day to day allowances which are made. Perhaps employees with children get priority when it comes to popular holiday dates or managers turn a blind eye when they come to work late or leave early due to child care issues. If an employee with no children asks to leave early for a special occasion, transport reasons or an appointment and is denied but employees with children regularly appear to leave whenever they need to then some resentment would be understandable. Employers should be careful to treat their employees equally regardless of whether or not they have children in order to avoid a potential tribunal claim for discrimination.