Offered career break, but not allowed back: ask the expert


After completing my maternity leave, I was offered a career break from my employer for a term up to five years. Although not “contractually binding”, I was encouraged to take advantage of this (rather than return part time), which I did, enjoying every second of my time as a full-time parent. I have attempted to return to my employer, understanding that my role may be different, but grading, salary scale etc should have remained the same. However, no- one seems keen to “own” me and I have received feedback saying that, as I have had five years out, I’m now ” unrecruitable”. I feel very let down and confused as to what to do next. I naively counted on goodwill and appreciate that was my failing, but the company invested hugely in me so I can’t understand why they won’t even consider me for similar roles, even on a temporary basis. As the company is a large employer in my area, my opportunities are somewhat limited. Do you have any advice on how I can promote myself/my career break positively?

Answer by Tracey Guest

Any action that you can take is dependant on if there was an agreement signed in relation to your career break and what any such agreement stated.  Working on the basis that there was an agreement, even if that agreement was verbal, (ie that you would have a career break of five years and remain with the Company as an employee), then providing you did not at any time hand in your resignation, you can argue that you remain an employee of the Company.

As such if the Company does not want you to return to work, they could consider making you redundant. They should follow a proper procedure in this respect and if they do not do so, you may be able to bring claims for unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and your statutory redundancy payment.  You should firstly lodge a formal grievance in writing to your employer, stating that there was an  agreement that you would return to work after your secondment and that you currently remain an employee and wish to return to work.  Once you have received a response from your employer, please telephone Tracey Guest on 0161 975 3823 for further advice.

Tracey GuestTracey Guest is head of employment and a partner at Slater Heelis in Manchester. She specialises in employment law and is also a working mum Meet our Panel of Experts

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