Can I refuse an interview if I’m on maternity leave?

I’m currently on maternity leave, but I’m feeling under pressure from my employer. Before my maternity leave I was working in a seconded role and had been for over 3 years. Prior to that I was in a temp role ‘acting up’ from my substantive position. My seconded role is due to come to an end (although I’ve not had confirmation when this will end yet). When this does eventually end, I will return to the department I came from (where I performed both my substantive and acting up role). However, HR have informed me by letter that the department has been restructured and there are now two roles which are suitable for me (my original/substantive role and the role which I acted up to for two years prior to my secondment as it’s now become a permanent position). There is a substantial difference in salary between the two positions. HR have said that there are only two people eligible to apply, me and the person currently ‘acting up’ to the role in question. Both our substantive roles are the same. HR now want me to go in for an interview as both myself and the other person have said we would like the higher role.

As I’m currently on maternity leave, I don’t feel emotionally, mentally or physically ready to attend an interview. Bearing in mind it’s been almost 4 years since I was in the role and the department for which I will be interviewed for. I’m breastfeeding my baby who isn’t yet five months old and who rarely sleeps more than half an hour at any one time, meaning I’m struggling to find any time to prepare for an interview. Not to mention ‘baby brain’ which frequently sees me forget what I’m talking about half way through a sentence! The thought of an interview at this time really worries me. The job I will be applying for requires a level headed, confident and resilient person, all of which I’m not feeling at this time. I’m certain attending an interview at this time will disadvantage me.

HR did line a date up for me, but I got so stressed about it, not having any time to prepare, I cancelled it, saying that the extra stress being applied to me was not helpful whilst on maternity leave and suggested the interviews be held closer to my return date (eight months away). HR then left it a month before contacting me again to advise that they’ll be writing to me again in a couple of months with a new date and that “I should appreciate that without the interviews, instability remains within the team”. This makes me feel even more pressure is on me to attend an interview which I’m not prepared for. I don’t know why HR are pressing for me to attend an interview whilst I’m on maternity leave – the situation has been the same for the last four years, so their timing is questionable.

I fear that if I attend at this current time when I’m ill prepared, my reputation will be damaged within the organisation and I will not only not get the position I’m interested in, but this will affect my career within the organisation. Do I legally have to attend an interview whilst on maternity leave and what are my rights?

I understand that you are currently on maternity leave and plan to be so for a further 8 months. An employer is entitled to carry out a restructure, despite the fact that you are on maternity leave. It can decide to do this at any point, due to commercial reasons. However, an employee on maternity leave has enhanced rights. You are entitled to be offered any suitable alternative vacancy that exists at your employer, before your old contract ends. This right occurs where there is a suitable alternative vacancy for you. It appears that there is a suitable role available for you.

I understand that your employer contacted you at the start of your maternity leave in respect of attending an interview. However, HR agreed to the meeting being postponed and have contacted you a month later to state that they will write to you again in a couple of months with a new date. They have therefore acted reasonably in this respect. They are entitled to ask you to attend an interview in order to determine whether the alternative position is suitable for you, i.e. to check that you have the necessary skills etc. I understand that you are extremely concerned that you will not perform well at an interview at this stage, due to sleepless nights etc. However, you have no legal rights to postpone a meeting on this basis.

I recommend that you send a letter/email to your employer explaining why you would struggle to attend and be able to conduct yourself well at an interview at this stage, i.e. because you are breastfeeding your baby who isn’t yet five months old and who rarely sleeps more than half an hour etc. Explain that you would find it extremely difficult to find any time to prepare for an interview. Explain that you are not currently yourself i.e. confident etc. Ask if they could possibly postpone the meeting for a further month.

If they will not agree to postpone the meeting, you should attend. Perhaps you could prepare in advance a document setting out your key skills and why you would be suitable for the position, so that if you feel that you will not be able to demonstrate all of your skills etc. during the interview, at least you can hand this document to your employer.

If you are dismissed due to redundancy during your maternity leave and a suitable alternative position is available and not offered to you, you could bring a claim at the Employment Tribunal for automatically unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. Please note that you have 3 months from the date of dismissal or the date of any discriminatory act to bring a claim.

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

Comments [4]

  • Rebecca says:

    Similar to the above whereby a restructure is taking place. My role and another managers is being amalgamated and therefore one of us will be made redundant. Anyone can apply.for it. I am.on maternity and have been told I must attend interview for it and do not get any priority over others as it’s not fair on the rest if I’m. Given the job as it’s suitable just to save me from redundancy whilst on maternity. What are my rights? Do I have to interview? Everyone has been placed at risk despite its only 2 jobs be in placed into 1 role.

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi – the advice in the question sets out your legal position from our expert Tracey Guest. In a restructure, you can be called for interview on maternity leave, but your employer has to act reasonably so if there are particular issues with regard to preparation, childcare, etc, they should take these into account and you could negotiate over this eg to get a postponement to allow you to prepare. If you are threatened with redundancy you would have priority over any suitable available roles.

  • Hilda says:

    Can I carry a baby to an interview. I need a job but I have a three months baby. I applied for a job in a school as a teacher. I have been called for an interview. Now am scared to carry my baby

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi Hilda,
      This probably wouldn’t go down very well. If you are having a problem with childcare, is there any way you could rearrange the interview time or is there someone – a friend or family member – who could look after your baby just for the short time an interview would take, even if it means they came to the interview and just took the baby out for a walk while you were in there? It would help you to focus too on the interview.
      Best wishes.

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