Being moved on return from maternity leave

I  am returning to work at the end of September after taking 12 months of maternity leave. I have suffered with quite severe post-natal depression during my leave and am still having bouts of depression despite being over the worst. I have been in contact with my manager this week about returning to work and initially he said all of the right things about occupational health referrals and offering support upon my return. But at the end of the conversation he said that I was likely to be moving to another team in another office [same pay etc] upon my return but he could tell me where or exactly when. This has massively triggered my anxiety again. Are they allowed to move me when I return without any consultation? Do I have any rights to refuse the move given that the thought of going back to a different team with my current mental health is concerning me somewhat?


silhouette of a person with grey paper scrunched up around to depict depression


When you return from maternity leave after 12 months, your employer does have the right to move you into a suitable alternative role if your original role is no longer available.  It should be similar in terms of the type of work and the pay and conditions should be no less favourable.  If the only distinction with the role that they propose to move you to is that it is in a different team, I can’t see much scope to challenge this based on your maternity leave rights.

However, if your post-natal depression is ongoing and the doctor would support you in what you say about this switch impacting negatively upon that condition due to the anxiety you feel at joining a new team, you might have grounds to challenge the proposal to some extent or at least the way in which it is being thrust upon you.  It might not result in you avoiding the move, but, if your doctor or an occupational health assessor confirms that this shift is likely to cause you increased anxiety and that steps should be taken to assist you to reduce that anxiety, your employer will need to look at what steps could be taken that work for both you and the organisation.

As an example, they might agree to assign you a “buddy” in the new team whose role would be to ensure that you adjust to working in that new team, get to know everybody and feel comfortable more quickly.  They might perhaps arrange for a social get together so that you can meet with them away from the job before you return properly.  As a condition that affects women following pregnancy and childbirth, a failure to look at the effect of this proposal upon you could amount to sex discrimination.  Furthermore, if your condition is significant in terms of its impact upon you and it is relatively long term (has lasted or is likely to last for at least 12 months, including however much time you have suffered from it already), you might qualify for additional protection under the disability limb of the Equality Act.

In essence, your employer really should be trying to work with you to understand your condition, how the proposal could exacerbate your symptoms and what steps might alleviate the issues to get you back in post in a reasonable way that works for everybody.

I do hope that your employer begins pro-active communication with you about this and you get back to work, but should the situation deteriorate further, I would suggest you seek bespoke advice from a solicitor upon your options.

*Marie Horner is an experienced senior employment law specialist at ALT Legal in Wetherby.

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