I am returning to work after 12 months on maternity leave from an administrative role within a recruitment company. In my original full-time contract, one of my responsibilities should have been the ‘Night Phone’ where you are on call for 12 hours as an out of hours service for the clients and employees. However, I was never trained in this role and did not do it before I went off on maternity leave. In my negotiations for going back to work, I told my employer I could only work three days a week due to childcare and this was agreed on by both parties. While on a stay in touch day I was emailed to say that I will be going on the night phone rota once a month, so a fourth shift one week out of the month, between 7pm and 7am. I replied to my employer saying that this was not possible as I would not be able to sort childcare for a 12-hour on call shift and could only do my agreed three shifts a week, but have been told it is part of my job and I have to do this. Where do I stand on this with my employment rights. Do I have the right to refuse this extra shift as it is not conducive to family life and I would not be able to perform the role properly with a young child to care for, or can they make me do it? And if they do make me do it, and I cannot do it well, do they then have a reason to sack me?
You have returned to work from Maternity Leave after 12 months – this is called Additional Maternity Leave (AML). In your contract of employment there was mention of the ‘Night Phone’, but you were not trained to do this and did not ever carry out this duty before you went on Maternity Leave. It is not clear whether you have to do the duty for one week (in your case three days) in four weeks or just one night in a four-week period. You have not said whether this duty can be carried out at home or has to done in the office.
You have certain rights on returning from AML and you are entitled to return to a different job which is both suitable for you and appropriate in the circumstances. The terms and conditions must not be less favourable than they would have been had you not been absent. In your case, following negotiations prior to returning, you were told that you could return to your old job, but on a flexible working basis of three days a week as you requested. There was no mention during the negotiations of you doing the ‘Night Phone’ duty, but afterwards you received an email detailing that you would have to do this as a part of your job.
You could explain that this is too soon for you to take on this extra duty and it is not reasonably practical in the circumstances as you are just returning to work and have childminding arrangements to consider.
Your Staff Handbook, which you should consult, almost certainly states that you will have a discussion about the arrangements for your return which may cover updating you on any changes that have occurred during your absence; any training needs you might have; and any changes to working arrangements (for example, if you have made a request to work part). As there was no mention of the ‘Night Phone’ or the training for it, you could ask you employer about this, asking why they had not raised this during the negotiations.
Case law says that employees can be expected to adapt to new working methods, particularly those introduced in order to modernise an employer’s businesses, but it will be difficult for an employer to introduce a change to an employee’s job and function without their specific consent.
You could file a grievance stating that being told to do the ‘Night Phone’ duty was not covered in the return to work negotiations, that the employer is aware that you have recently had a baby so childminding would be a problem for you at night time. Furthermore, you were not trained to do this duty and had never done it before going on Maternity Leave.