I am currently on maternity leave, but I am returning within six months. The company is fully aware of this.
I have been called in for a informal meeting to be told my role is been restructed due to a new manager. I am supervisor and my main task is routing vehicles. They brought in a more junior person to cover my role and gave her my job title as she was acting up. They suggest that, under the restructure, my job would be a job share. They say this is to ensure the duties are covered at all times and to retain the maternity leave cover as she is too good to return to her previous role. She will perform my main job of routing vehicles. The hours they are suggesting she has agreed too, but I am unable to due to childcare. I thought returning before six months would secure my role. Any advice would be appreciated.
I have summarised the details of this situation as these were set out over several emails. You have been employed for several years as a full-time supervisor, with routing vehicles as your main task. You are currently on maternity leave and plan to return within the first six months of your ordinary maternity leave (“OML”). A junior colleague is covering your maternity leave, and as she is “acting up”, has been temporarily given the title of supervisor and the same rate of pay as you.
At a recent informal meeting, your employer told you that they are restructuring your role so that it is performed on a full-time basis by two supervisors. The two supervisors would be yourself and your maternity leave cover. The rationale for this proposal is twofold: to ensure the duties are covered at all times and to retain your maternity leave cover as she is “too good” to return to her previous role. The business envisages that your colleague will perform your primary task of routing vehicles so that you have more time to perform other tasks. You feel that you are being demoted. You want to know whether the business can restructure your job and remove a fundamental part of your role, and what will happen if you can’t accommodate the proposed changes to your role?
As you are returning before Ordinary Maternity Leave ends, you can return to the same job you were in before your maternity leave period and on terms and conditions “not less favourable” than those which would have applied if you had not been absent. Minor changes to your employment terms may be permissible but the change your employer has proposed seem significant and unlikely to fall into this category.
Your employer is currently consulting with you about these changes following which it could (a) unilaterally impose the changes, (b) drop the proposed changes, or (c) dismiss you.
If the change is imposed without your agreement and you continue to work, you could still potentially bring a tribunal claim on the basis you have suffered a detriment because you went on maternity leave and/or the business has failed to comply with its legal obligations to return you to the same job. If they go further though and dismiss you because you will not agree the changes, you could have claims for automatic unfair dismissal and/or discrimination because of sex and/or maternity.
During the consultation now, explain that you don’t feel you are being treated fairly, that the business has not given a good business reason for removing your primary duty of routing vehicles from your job, and that it seems the only reason they have for doing so is to retain your maternity cover. Your manager has said as much and you should make a note of that conversation and all others going forward. Tell your employer you believe this is unfair and amounts to sex discrimination because of your pregnancy/maternity leave, and is only happening because you went on maternity leave; ultimately, if you had not gone on maternity leave, your full-time job would have continued as normal.
If following this consultation, they proceed with the changes, I suggest you consider raising a separate formal grievance about this situation and your employer’s failure to allow you to return to the same job.