I’ve been at my company for eight years. I went on maternity leave in July 2017, in October it was announced that my company was merging with several others to make a super agency all still under one umbrella. They are moving my office to another location that will take me longer to get too and that is without any train delays so it will be more. My manager is a friend and called to tell me about the merge, but I’ve had no formal information from the company explaining what is happening. I have no idea what the changes have meant for my job and I don’t want the extended journey. Where do I stand with this as it’s all happened since I’ve been off. I obviously now have to think about childcare and as it’s the sort of company that often requires working past 5.30, I want to do flexible hours, shorter and less days, but my main confusion is the fact I will be going back to a completely different company.
I understand that you have been at your company for eight years and are currently on a period of maternity leave. You are due to return to work and in the meantime it was announced that your employer was merging with five others to make a super agency under the same umbrella and that they would be moving your office to another location that will take you longer to get to. You have had no formal confirmation from your employer regarding the merger and are not aware what any changes will mean for your job. Furthermore you say that your colleagues at work also do not seem to be aware of what is happening and as far as you are aware, the company is working on the new structure.
You would like to work shorter days and less days when you return to work, but at present are not sure whether your employer will even be the same. You have asked for advice on what you should be asking and what your employer should be doing for you and whether you have any rights in relation to the lack of consultation over the merger.
The first thing to point out is that when you return to work after a period of maternity leave which is 26 weeks or less, you are entitled to return to the job in which you were employed before your absence with your seniority, pension rights and similar rights as they would have been had you not gone on ML and on terms and conditions no less favourable than those which would have been applied had you not been absent; i.e. you have the right to return to exactly the same job you left and to be treated as if you had never been absent. You should be paid the same rate of pay that would have been payable had you not been on ML and this includes any pay increases that would have been awarded during ML. When you return to work after a period of ML which is longer than 26 weeks then you have the same rights, except that if reinstatement in your old job is not reasonably practicable you employer can offer you another job which is both suitable for you and appropriate for you to do in the circumstances.
Leaving aside the fact you are on maternity leave, an employer must consult with an employee regarding any changes to the terms and conditions of employment, which in your case would be a potential change in the location of your job. In the event that the merger happens and the location of your job changes then you must be consulted about that rather than have that change forced upon you. You retain the benefit of your terms and conditions of employment during your maternity leave and failure on the part of your employer to provide you with these benefits can amount to a breach of contract which may give you the right to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal. However, I would advise you seeking detailed legal advice before proceeding down this route.
You also have the right to request flexible working. This right applies universally now to employees with over 26 weeks’ service. An employer can refuse such a request.
However, it appears from your email that no final formal decision has been made about the merger or any new structure or location. In the first instance, if you are concerned then you may wish to contact your HR department and ask for confirmation of the current position and the potential effect on your role when you return from maternity leave. Once you have this information then you should take further advice regarding your options when you return to work.
Should you require any further advice, please contact Tracey Guest on 0161 672 1425.
*Lucy Flynn assisted in answering this question.