I manage a reception team at a doctor’s surgery. One of my staff is taking a maternity position elsewhere in the practice as a secretary which is a fixed term of 12 months (dependent on the maternity worker returning to work post delivery). We do not think that she will return to our department after this change and will either leave completely and take a secretarial role elsewhere or take a permanent position within that department if/when it becomes available. My question is whether my current department can advertise her permanent post and replace her completely or whether her position within reception is protected by her decision to work in another department for a year and we can only recruit the equivalent maternity cover that passes over from the secretary department?
Whenever a change like this occurs with an employee, it is vital to establish from the outset the terms of the move to ensure that the employee understands whether or not they will return to their substantive post.
The first option is that the employee could move to the maternity cover role as an ‘internal secondment’. This would be for a fixed term (that being the length that maternity cover is required), and at the end of the secondment the employee would move back to her substantive role. If you decide to second the employee it is advisable to have a secondment agreement or at least a letter setting out the terms of the secondment in place, which should include information regarding what will happen at the end of the secondment.
The second option is that the employee agrees to move to the maternity cover post as a permanent change, i.e. her contract of employment as a receptionist will come to an end and she will commence a new fixed term contract of employment in the secretary position. It should be made clear to the employee that once the fixed term contract comes to an end her employment will terminate as the receptionist role will not be held open.
The option you choose will be very much dependent on the needs of the business.
The above assumes that the employee in question has not already commenced in the maternity cover post. If she has already commenced this and it has not been made clear to her that she will not return to the receptionist post at the end of the maternity cover, the employee will likely have an expectation that she will return to the receptionist post and could potentially claim unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal if she is unable to return to her substantive post. The safest option would therefore be to back-fill her substantive post until she either returns to this post or takes up an alternative post either at the surgery or with another employer. Alternatively you could attempt to reach an agreement in respect of one of the options above – but this may be more difficult if the employee has already started in the new role.