I am on maternity leave in my 22nd week. Before I left for maternity I was working part time (3 days per week) as a senior account manager. I have received a call and letter to advise that the company is being restructured and my team will have to lose staff. I am one of three who are on maternity leave. I have been advised that as a result of the restructure and slight change in job role I will not be able to return on a part-time basis (job share or other). They have let me know that I will be offered one of the available positions on a full-time basis. I have been told that although they are obliged to offer me a position they would like to invite me to an interview – are they allowed to do this? Why are they interviewing me if they know they will be giving me a job?? Also I feel that they are trying to get rid of part-time employees as they have never really supported working parents. For instance, I have always far excelled my targets and have never had any reason for concern in any of my reviews. Following every review I have ever had my manager has said that the only thing I can do better going forwards is returned to full time. This was also said to me less than a month ago at a social event by my manager and managing director. Also, when my manager contacted me regarding a meeting (which turned out to be about this company restructure) I explained that on the time/date they suggested I would have my children and asked for it to happen at another time when I have childcare – this was initially agreed. The day before the meeting I received a text to say it had to be pushed back to the original time/date. I explained again that my children would be present and they said that it’s fine to have your children there. I’ve since found out that they saw other people on my preferred date.
I hope that you are enjoying your maternity leave outside of these issues with your employer. To answer your points, I have firstly summarised my understanding of your situation from your question:
Returning to work
Firstly, in terms of your right to return to work at the end of your maternity leave, if you return after 26 weeks ordinary leave, you have the right to return to the same job on the same terms and conditions. If additional leave is taken, then you still have the right to return to the same job, unless it is not reasonably practicable. In that case, the employer has a duty to offer you a suitable alternative position.
If a redundancy situation arises while an employee is on maternity leave, then the employee on maternity leave should be offered a suitable alternative vacancy and also should be given priority for available roles over other employees at risk of redundancy. Often employees would prefer to deal with the consultation on their return to work. However, the employer generally shouldn’t wait until then as it is more likely that any vacancies would have been filled.
It is not immediately clear from your summary whether there is a genuine redundancy situation in the first place. This is defined by law and the most likely scenario is that the employer has a downturn in work which requires fewer employees to carry out that particular type of work. However, there would not be a redundancy situation if they wanted to replace part-time employees with full-time employees as the volume of work would have increased. There are conflicting arguments about whether “part-time” and “full-time” are in themselves particular types of work, but this is a difficult position for the employer to take.
In terms of attending an interview, if a suitable vacancy exists, then this should be offered to you without the need for you to attend a competitive interview. However, on a practical level, it may be in your interest to find out as much as possible about the role before you are due to return.
If no suitable role is available, then you would be entitled to a statutory redundancy payment (if you have over two years’ service) and your notice pay. If you qualified for SMP, this would still be paid until the 39 weeks is up.
You highlight a number of concerns about your treatment, and you do have protection under employment law. Firstly, you should not be treated less favourably because of your part-time status and secondly, you should not be discriminated against as a result of taking maternity leave.
With regard to the issues that you have identified, I would suggest looking up your company’s grievance procedure which should summarise how an employee can raise concerns about their treatment. Usually the first stage of this is to put your concerns in writing to enable the employer to investigate them. Your concerns seem to cover these areas:
I would also highlight that, while this is undoubtedly very stressful, recognising that redundancy situations are often very difficult for employers as well can help and while you have rights you can assert, working with your employer to achieve a solution that works for both of you can be more valuable.
Finally, there are a number of short time limits that would apply to taking any of these rights further and other options that depend on your objectives. I would therefore recommend that you take further legal advice on your situation.