Is it legal for my employer to demote me after maternity leave?

I have recently returned from maternity leave (40 weeks). Before I left, I was an operational head earning a good salary with an associated monthly bonus. I have worked for this company for 8 years and worked long hours to get to the level I am now at. I understand that as I took 40 weeks off I am not entitled to the same role but I am entitled to a position of the same standing. I have returned to a supporting projects role and a new manager working 24 hours per week over four days. I have no work to speak of, no team to manage (having managed 70 people before I left) and my pay, although pro-rata is not bonused and in effect, I am taking a £10K pay cut over the year. I have not been given a job specification and have asked twice for clarification and an increase in workload from both my new line manager and my previous line manager but have been given nothing. I’ve gone from busy, productive days leading a team and making a difference while furthering my career, to begging other departments for admin work or something to keep me busy. Otherwise I am literally doing nothing. There may be individuals that would be happy to earn a salary for doing very little, but I was very clear when asking to return to work that I wanted a position where I could continue my career, not a gratuitous position – which is exactly what they have given me. I feel as though I should have been made redundant if they could not find a suitable role. I was advised that I’m not able to run my previous department over 24 working hours. I feel utterly lost and useless. I have an excellent track record and up until now felt valued, significant and in a position to keep pushing upwards. Where do I stand?

 

I’m sorry that you have found yourself in this position. Following Additional Maternity Leave you are ordinarily entitled to return to the same role in terms of seniority and remuneration – or an alternative position with terms and conditions that are no less favourable.

On the face of it, the terms of your new role are substantially inferior to your previous role and therefore you would have a potential claim for breach of the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations. However, it is not clear from your question whether you requested a shorter working week by making a flexible working request. If you did, then your employer may not be acting unlawfully by offering you different terms and a different kind of work. Much would depend on the terms of your contract and whether, for example, you had a contractual right to return on different terms.

In order to fully advise you I would need to know if you tried to exercise your right to come back to your original position and if it was you who requested that you worked reduced hours. You may have grounds to pursue a complaint to the Employment Tribunal for sex discrimination and/or unlawful detriment, if, it is found that your job or terms of employment have been altered either because of your pregnancy or because you took maternity leave.

A return to work from maternity leave always signifies a period of significant adjustment but please be reassured that there is legal protection for you if appropriate. If you would like to discuss this in more detail, and have written correspondence from your employer regarding this which you’d like me to review, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

 





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