Being asked in for interviews in maternity leave: ask the expert

I am currently on maternity leave and being redeployed in work. They keep asking me in for interviews which I have been attending. It is making me feel very stressed! I went for one interview and they told me they would start me tomorrow, but I could not have the job as it was only for six months. Now I have to go in for more interviews. I feel if I say no it will go against me, but at the same time I am really stressed! My baby is only 11 weeks and I am breastfeeding. I also have a three and a half year old.

The fact that your employer is attempting to redeploy you implies that your previous role has become redundant. As you are currently on maternity leave, special rules apply to your situation.  As an employee on maternity leave, the law dictates that you should receive preference over other employees with regards to ‘suitable alternative vacancies’. If a suitable alternative vacancy exists, it should be offered to you in the first instance.

Your employer’s obligation in relation to suitable alternative vacancies is that the role should be offered to you, and not merely that you should be invited to apply.   In your case, your employer has been asking you to attend interviews. This is not the correct way of dealing with the situation, and you need to approach your employer in the first instance to discuss this. An informal discussion may resolve the matter, or it could be that you are required to follow your employer’s grievance procedure.

You have mentioned that you were offered one particular role, but that this was not suitable due to the fact that it was a six-month fixed-term contract. When deciding whether a role is suitable, the general principle is that it must be suitable for the employee and appropriate for them to do in the circumstances. In addition, the terms and conditions must not be substantially less favourable than the terms of the previous role. In your case, provided you were employed on a permanent basis before maternity leave, a six month contract is clearly not suitable as the terms are substantially less favourable.

As such, your employer is still under a duty to look for suitable alternative positions, and if there is one, to offer it to you automatically (without the need for an interview). If there is a suitable alternative vacancy and your employer fails to offer it to you, your dismissal would be automatically unfair and you would be able to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal.

If there are no suitable alternative vacancies at all, your employment and your maternity leave period would come to an end by reason of redundancy. If you have two years service, you would be entitled to a redundancy payment. You should note that if you refuse a suitable alternative vacancy, you will lose any entitlement to a redundancy payment.  In the event that you are made redundant, your employer still needs to follow a fair procedure in relation to consultation, selection criteria, etc. If they fail to do so, you may have a claim for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal. In addition, if you feel that you have been selected for redundancy due to the fact that you are on maternity leave, you may also have a claim for sex discrimination.

Finally, it should be noted that there is a possibility that your employer may try to argue that this is not a redundancy situation at all, but rather a business reorganisation. Separate rules apply in these cases, and you would need to seek specialist legal advice in the event that this is applicable.  Should you require further advice in relation to redundancy, business re-organisation, submitting a grievance or regarding the potential claims that you could bring at Tribunal, please contract Tracey Guest on 0161 975 3823.

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