Forced out of my job?: ask the expert
When you return from your maternity leave after 12 months, you are entitled to return to the same job, on the same terms and conditions which you had before you left. If, however, it is not reasonably practicable for your employer to offer you your old job back, then they are legally required to offer you a suitable alternative role, on terms and conditions no less favourable than you were on previously, unless there is no such role, for example, by reason of redundancy.
The two hours per week role is obviously unsuitable, so it is the full-time role we need to consider. If, as I am assuming, you were working full-time before you left, then the job you are entitled to on your return would be a full-time role also. Unfortunately, you do not have an automatic right to return on a part-time or flexible working basis. However, your job terms should not be being dictated by the person covering for your maternity leave, and it is this person’s job rather than yours which should be altered first and even terminated. If you are being treated unfavourably in being on maternity leave you may have a claim for maternity or sex discrimination (if the cover is a man).
However, you should now make a flexible working request to your employer as soon as possible to reduce or change your hours. While there is no guarantee that your employer will grant this, they are obliged to consider it and can only reject your request if they have a good (legitimate business) reason to do so. The only problem for you here is that while you can ask your employer to consider your request urgently, by law they have up to 28 days before they are obliged to hold a meeting with you and another 14 days to give you a decision. Depending on how soon you are returning to work it may be that you do not have a decision before you return, in which case you would have to return on a full-time basis in the hope that it would only be a short period of time before your hours are adjusted. If this cannot be done, then you will need to consider making a claim for constructive dismissal and possibly maternity/sex discrimination.
For more information on making this request please go to http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/Employees/Flexibleworking/DG_10037051
For more information regarding making a claim please go to http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/ResolvingWorkplaceDisputes/Employmenttribunals/DG_176137
Laura Livingstone is an employment lawyer for Davenport Lyons in London. Her practice focuses on contentious and non-contentious employment work, but she leans towards the non-contentious. She has advised a wide variety of corporate clients in all areas of employment. Harriet Vaines assisted with this answer.