I am due to return to work in May following a period of OML and AML. Prior to commencing my maternity leave I was working a four-day week and was the head of a department. My maternity cover was a colleague of the same level, but who had no experience in my field and was working a five- day week. I have had a meeting today to discuss my return to work and the role I will be doing and I have been informed that, due to workload and the focus of the business, two roles have been created. One has been made clear needs to be undertaken on a five-day week basis and the other would be acceptable on a four-day week basis. I have been given the choice, but I would need to apply and be interviewed for the five-day week role. This role is effectively the role I was doing prior to me going on maternity leave and it is my belief that the four-day role is a sideline/demotion. I will have less people to manage and my new area will be responsible for less accounts. I feel I am now backed into a corner given I wish to continue on the same terms and conditions (a four-day week). Is this an acceptable way for my employer to proceed?
After Additional Maternity Leave (the 2nd six months of maternity leave), you have the right to return to the same job, or where that is “not reasonably practicable”, another job which is both suitable and appropriate in the circumstances.
If changes during your maternity leave make it “not reasonably practicable” for you to return to your old role, it is acceptable for your employer to offer another job but only if it is suitable and appropriate.
It sounds like you suspect that the new role is not suitable or appropriate as it has lower status. It is also not clear why it is not possible for you simply to slot into your old role and continue on a 4-day week basis.
I would suggest that you make these points to your employer: ask why it is not possible for you to return on a 4-day week – i.e. what exactly has changed in your absence? Ask why you have to apply and be interviewed for your own job. Point out that the alternative is not suitable and appropriate because it has lower status.
You might have a claim for maternity discrimination if you can show that it was reasonably practicable for you to return to your old role and that you have been sidelined because of your maternity leave.
If you do not get satisfactory explanations from your employer, you should seek specialist legal advice about your options.