I have taken a year’s maternity leave and upon having a meeting about returning to work they advised me that my project manager role is no longer required but I can return to a more administrative role which is a lot lower status than my previous role, basically working alongside people I used to manage, although conditions, salary etc are the same. There has been no other consultation. Do I gave to accept this new role as it’s a lower status? If my role is no longer available am I entitled to redundancy? If I hadn’t have been on maternity leave I’m sure I would still be there doing the same role and it would still exist today. I was the only person doing this role and was always told how valuable it was. They are claiming my duties have been covered by the admin team and no new big projects have arisen over the last year – hence the reason the role is no longer required.
I note from your question that you are currently on additional maternity leave (AML). I further note that your employer has informed you that your project management role is ‘no longer required’, but that you can return from AML to ‘a more admin role’, which is a lot lower status but with your salary and other contractual benefits preserved.
As a starting point, it is important to remember that when you return from additional maternity leave, you are entitled to return to the same job, on the same terms and conditions of employment as if you had not been absent. If it is not reasonably practicable for your employer to allow you to do so (for a reason other than redundancy), you should be offered suitable and appropriate alternative employment on terms and conditions that are no less favourable than the job you were doing prior to maternity leave. If it is not practicable, by reason of redundancy, for you to continue under your existing contract, you are entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy (where one is available) in priority to other employees.
The key issue for you is whether or not the role you have been offered is suitable alternative employment. This will involve consideration of elements such as pay, location, status etc. If the ‘more admin role’ would be regarded as suitable alternative employment and you refuse it, your dismissal for redundancy is likely to be fair and if you unreasonably refuse it, you will lose your right to a redundancy payment. If, however, the role is not a suitable alternative vacancy, then your employment will be regarded as terminated by reason of redundancy and your dismissal would be for that reason.
In terms of the redundancy process itself, the procedure needs to be fair and reasonable in order to avoid a claim for unfair dismissal. This will involve, in brief, warning you, consulting with you and considering any suitable alternative employment (see above). If your employer has not followed a fair process then your dismissal is likely to be unfair. Furthermore, if your selection for redundancy is due to your pregnancy/maternity leave, your dismissal may be automatically unfair and you may have a claim for pregnancy/maternity discrimination.
Due to the complexities of your situation and the need to carefully assess the issue of ‘suitable alternative employment’, I would recommend that you take further specific legal advice on your next steps. Please note that claims for discrimination and unfair dismissal have to be submitted to a tribunal within a period of three months from the date of the act to which the complaint relates and you also have to have undertaken the Acas early conciliation procedure in order for your claim to be accepted by an employment tribunal. Before submitting any claim, I would also advise you to submit a grievance to your employer in relation to your treatment.
*Adam Wightman assisted in answering this question.