I have been on a maternity cover contract for 14 months. The girl is not coming back and has resigned (she is now launching a tribunal against them for indirect sex discrimination related to her pregnancy and flexi time rights), a process which has so far taken over 4 months. My original contract was until June, and when the woman didn’t return I kept being extended for 1 month at a time. I then fell pregnant myself, and am currently 7 months pregnant. They kept assuring me they would extend me until and through my maternity leave, and this week I finally have my date of maternity leave and they said they will extend me until and hopefully beyond then and I’ll quality for full maternity. The term of the enhanced maternity is this: If you have worked for us for one year at the 15th week before your baby is due, you will be entitled to the following: 13 weeks at full basic salary (or the first 6 weeks at statutory if higher and then 7 weeks a full basic salary) followed by 26 weeks at the Statutory standard rate of SMP. At my initial job interview, my boss already (I realise wrongly) strongly indicated the woman wouldn’t return and the role would be made permanent for me in the future. Since I’ve become pregnant this seems to have changed and my boss’ attitude has become markedly withdrawn and at times hostile towards me. Now I have had to chase them continually for updates even when my contract was due to expire within 1 week, and have been provided the very briefest of information. HR told me yesterday that after discussion they realised I don’t in fact qualify for the enhanced maternity, as despite clearly meeting the requirements as the policy is worded and was indicated to me previously, my leave date for maternity is actually regarded by them as my end date at the company, full stop. So they see this as not needing to provide me with my full maternity rights. I also wonder how I stand in terms of having being employed on several fixed-term contracts for well over 1 year now, in the same role, that does exist and clearly will still need to exist, but is not being offered to me now the woman has confirmed she is not returning to claim her role. I feel this has all changed since I have become pregnant. I feel really upset and frustrated and angry this has dragged on to this extent, with me staying in the role after firm assurances I would be given maternity rights and look to be made permanent and now this clearly isn’t happening.
You raise several queries and I will deal with each in turn:
Ending of a fixed-term contract – normally there should be some consultation over the ending of a fixed term contract and the employer should look for other work for you within the company if your current role has come to an end. The fact that your role still exists and they are simply saying it will end at the start of your maternity leave clearly indicates sex discrimination. It appears that your contract is ending because you are pregnant. This also means that the dismissal will be automatically unfair.
Entitlement to maternity pay – if you have been continuously employed for 26 week by the 15th week before the Expected Week of Childbirth, then provided the other conditions are met, you will be entitled to SMP regardless of whether your employment is terminated after this time. You should therefore receive SMP anyway. In relation to enhanced pay, from the extract you have given, again you would be entitled to the enhanced maternity pay (unless there is a clause saying you have to be employed to receive it). The fact that you are losing the enhanced pay due to your employment being terminated due to being pregnant, however, means that you should be able to claim this money back.
Harassment – you are being treated in a hostile manner since announcing your pregnancy. You need to keep a diary of what is happening, comments made etc as this will assist you in any claim for sex discrimination.
At this point in time you should raise a grievance about the way you are being treated and that you believe the dismissal and the unfair treatment of you is due to you being pregnant. You may also wish for us to be involved as we could assist you in obtaining compensation and advise on an exit strategy. Please call on 0161 975 3845 for further advice.
Sarah Calderwood assisted with this answer.