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I have recently been informed that my department is likely to be moved to another location as a result of myself and my colleague going on maternity leave later this year. Our location is stipulated in our work contracts so we realise that they would have to go through the formal redundancy process if we decided we couldn’t move with the department, but are they able to pressure us to make a decision before we both go on maternity leave? It feels like they may want us to say either way before we go, but I’m reluctant to commit to something before knowing how I’ll feel. Also, if I was pressured to make decision and it ended up with me taking redundancy before I left for maternity leave, would it mean they would not have to pay me for maternity leave? My HR representative says I won’t have to make the decision before I go, but there’s been a few things in our experience that she has said that have turned out to not be accurate so I’d rather find out for myself.
I note from your question that your department is likely to be moved to another location and that your current place of work is stipulated in your contract of employment. Your HR representative has explained that you will not have to make a decision about redundancy before you go on your maternity leave.
It is not clear from your query whether your employer has yet started a formal redundancy process. Relocating your place of work is likely to involve a redundancy situation, although this will depend on the terms of your contract of employment and notably how your place of work is defined and any mobility clause. If this is a redundancy situation and your employer terminates you employment for this reason, you would be entitled to a redundancy payment (if you have sufficient continuity of employment) and payment in respect of your notice period, whether your redundancy takes effect before or during your maternity leave. If you have become entitled to statutory maternity pay because you meet the relevant qualifying requirements, you will still be entitled to statutory maternity pay as long as you cease working for your employer, whether this is due to you commencing maternity leave, resigning or being dismissed (for redundancy reasons) or otherwise. This is because statutory maternity pay is not dependent on you remaining an employee.
Depending on the procedure followed by your employer in effecting your dismissal, you may also be able to claim unfair dismissal (if you have sufficient continuity of employment). To defeat an unfair dismissal claim your employer would need to demonstrate firstly that this is a genuine redundancy situation, and secondly, that it has followed a fair procedure, which involves, for example, warning and consulting with you and exploring suitable alternative employment with you. In the event a redundancy situation arises during your maternity leave and it is not practicable by reason of redundancy for your employer to continue to employ you under your existing contract, then you would be entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy (if one is available) to start immediately from when your existing contract ends and this would also be in preference to other employees.
I note you have concerns that your employer may make you redundant so that they do not have to pay you for your maternity leave. If you are dismissed and the only or principal reason for this is related to pregnancy, birth or maternity leave, (i.e. this is not a genuine redundancy situation), then the dismissal will be automatically unfair. You would also have a claim for maternity/pregnancy discrimination. Any such claims must be submitted to an employment tribunal within three months of your dismissal/the discriminatory act.
If you would like some further advice regarding any of the points discussed above then please contact Tracey Guest on 0161 975 3823.
*Helen Frankland assisted in this answer.