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I am currently on maternity leave due to return to work in October. Before I left I was in an acting up role which was a rolling fixed term arrangement, but it was dependent on the original post holder being made permanent, so would continue to be extended as and when to accommodate. My arrangement at the time of going on maternity was due to expire whilst I was off, but verbal assurances were given by my manager that this would not be an issue. They advertised for maternity cover for 12 months for the acting-up role, but for various reasons the maternity cover never got filled. I received a letter mid May from HR stating that I would return to my substantive role on 31st May. I hadn’t had any discussions with my manager and no warning of this. I contacted my manager who claimed to know nothing about the situation and would need to speak with her manager who was on leave for two weeks – this meant that I would not hear back until my contract had expired and I had technically returned to my substantive post. Upon her return I contacted my manger again who claimed to have not had a chance to discuss it. This went on for a while and then it was announced that the service would be undergoing a restructure and all staff must attend a consultation kick off meeting. I attended the meeting to find out my the grade my acting-up role was would be reduced from 4 to 3 posts . Further, my substantive role post would be reduce from 2 posts to 1, meaning I am at risk as is another employee for that role.
At the end of the meeting I was asked to stay behind and told that a reorganisation cancels all acting-up roles and everyone must return to their substantive roles. (I am the only person who holds an acting-up role). This means I will be considered at the lower grade for redeployment. There are other roles being added elsewhere in the department on a similar pay grade to my secondment role and I believe I should be offered these as an alternative. Do I only have claim to similar pay grades to my substantive role? I also know that key projects i was working on before i went off are still being worked on by my colleagues meaning that had i have not gone off on maternity leave I would still be carrying out work under the acting-up role. I can’t help but feel that by going on maternity leave and giving up my workload I was an easy target to ‘delete’ to save the other members of staff.
Also I have saved all of my KIT days until the end of my maternity leave – these will now be paid at a lower rate than if I had taken them before now. Is this fair?
When you return to work after a period of maternity leave which is 26 weeks or less, you are entitled to return to the job in which you were employed before the absence with your seniority, pension and similar rights as they would have been had you not gone on maternity leave and on terms and conditions no less favourable than those which would have applied had you not been absent; i.e. you have the right to return to exactly the same role you left and to be treated as if you had never been absent. You should be paid the same rate of pay that would have been payable had you not been on maternity leave and this includes any pay increases that would have been awarded whilst you were on maternity leave. When you return to work after a period of maternity leave which is longer than 26 weeks then you have the same rights, except that if reinstatement in your old job is not reasonably practicable, your employer can offer you another job which is both suitable for you and appropriate for you to do in the circumstances.
Leaving aside the fact that you are on maternity leave, an employer must consult with you about the redundancy and consider suitable alternative employment as an alternative where vacancies are available. Employers have a statutory responsibility to offer suitable alternative employment first to any employees made redundant whilst on maternity leave.
You have been informed by the employer that due to redundancy, the post you were acting up in is no longer available as there is a reduction in the requirement of the number of employees required to carry out that particular job. However, I consider that it is reasonable for you to contend that as you have been acting up for several years, you should be considered in the selection pool along with other employees in that role, although I acknowledge that this would effectively put the three existing employees in the post at risk. Alternatively, you could argue that you should be offered suitable alternative posts at that grade as a priority as you are on maternity leave. In the event the employer fails to follow a fair redundancy process by taking into account the fact you were acting up at the time you went on redundancy leave, you could potentially have claims for unfair dismissal and/or sex discrimination. You should be aware that the time limit for bringing these claims is three months less one day from the date of the dismissal or discriminatory act.
In respect of your KIT days, whilst you are entitled to up to 10 days, these are optional and need to be agreed between the employer and employee. Based on the information available, I am unclear as to your intentions in terms of attending work whilst both your acting up and substantive roles are at risk. I recommend checking with HR if there is any requirement for you to attend work during the consultation period.
*Samantha Tanney assisted in answering this question.