Asked to travel extensively after maternity leave: ask the expert

I was due to return to work after 6 months, but my employer told me that they now require me to travel extensively (at least one week abroad per month). I do not feel able to do this so I extended my maternity leave by another 3 months.  I have asked for some flexibility and have stated I would like a solution everyone is happy with, but they have said that if I return full-time I must travel and a travel plan for the next 3 months will be implemented. (There is nothing in my contract about extensive travel).

The company is a small organisation and would benefit from someone being able to travel, but with a new baby I am not in a position to do this. Please can you let me know what my rights are regarding this. I want to be fair to the organisation, however I also want to ensure I am treated fairly in return.

I understand that you were due to return to work following a six-month period of maternity leave. However, your employer informed you that you would be required to travel extensively, which you felt you would be unable to do. I understand that there is nothing in your contract of employment relating to extensive travel.

You decided to extend your period of maternity leave by three months and you are therefore currently on a period of additional maternity leave (AML). Following a period of AML, you are entitled to return to the job that you were employed in before your absence. Your terms and conditions of employment should be no less favourable than would have applied to you had you not been absent on maternity leave. If there is no provision for extensive foreign travel in your contract, as you have stated,  this should remain the same following your period of AML.

The exception to you being entitled to return to the job that you were employed in before your absence is if it is not reasonably possible for your employer to reinstate you in your old job. However, if this is the case, you are still entitled to be offered another job, which is both suitable and appropriate for your circumstances. It is not open for your employer to refuse to offer you any job at all in these circumstances, unless there is a redundancy situation.

It appears from your email that your employer would not be able to demonstrate that it is not possible for you to return to your previous role. You state that the company would benefit from someone being able to travel but it is unclear whether this needs to be you and why this would be the case. In the absence of details from your employer to explain this point, I assume that it would indeed be possible for you to return to your old job.

If your employer unilaterally changes your terms and conditions of employment for the worse by insisting that you are required to travel extensively,  you could have a  claim for constructive unfair dismissal if you resign in response to your employer’s unilateral change. Please do not take this step without taking further legal advice. Your constructive unfair dismissal claim would likely result in a finding by a tribunal of automatically unfair dismissal if the reason for the change is you having taken maternity leave. You could also have a claim for sex discrimination in these circumstances.

Please note that if you wish to bring any claim at the employment tribunal for sex discrimination / constructive unfair dismissal, you only have 3 months from the date of the discriminatory act in the case of sex discrimination or 3 months from the termination of your employment in the case of constructive unfair dismissal to bring a claim.

As a first step, if your employer is insistent on imposing the change regarding travel to your contract, you could choose to submit a grievance setting out the reasons why you are unhappy with your employment situation and the way in which your employer has handled the change to your terms and conditions. If your employer’s response does not provide you with a workable solution, then you may at that stage decide to resign with immediate effect and consider submitting claims in the employment tribunal.

If you would like any further information, please do not hesitate to contact Tracey Guest on 0161 975 3823.

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