Q And A
Job changed on maternity leave: ask the expert
I work at a chain of fast food restaurants and the store that I normally work at has closed for refurbishment. I became pregnant and went on maternity leave last year. It is now coming up to one year that I have had off and I have been trying to get a transfer to another store since December 2011 as I wanted to return to work early. However, there have been no positions available in stores local to my area and I have been in touch with HR and phoned every week since December to ask for an update and they just keep saying there are no positions. I know that this is illegal, but I'm not sure what steps I should take next as they seem to be trying to brush it under the carpet and hope that I'll give my notice in. Any advice would be welcome.
Answer by Tracey Guest
The restaurant that you worked at has closed for refurbishment, i.e. a temporary shutdown. I understand that other employees have been relocated to other stores, but that you have been informed that there are no positions available for you, despite the fact that you were ready to return from maternity leave.
After maternity leave, you have the right to return to the job in which you were employed before your absence, or if that is not reasonably practicable, to another job which is both suitable for you and appropriate for you in the circumstances, i.e. to work at another local store.
By refusing to allow you to return to work, you have a potential claim for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal. Before lodging these claims at an Employment Tribunal, you could seek to try to resolve the matter with your employer. You could therefore send a letter to your manager making it clear that you wish to lodge a formal grievance in respect of the treatment you have received. In the letter, you need to make it clear that you informed your employer in December 2011 that you wanted to return to work early and that you have telephoned HR every week since December, but have been told that there is no position for you. You should set out that you are aware that you have special rights given that you were due to return to work after maternity leave and that you do not understand why you cannot return to work.
Alternatively, if you do not wish to seek to resolve this matter with your employer in order that you can return to work, another option is for you to commence proceedings at the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. However, before taking this step please contact me for further advice on 0161 975 3823.
Tracey Guest is head of employment and a partner at Slater Heelis in Manchester. She specialises in employment law and is also a working mum.