Facing temporary relocation on return from maternity leave: ask the expert

I am due to return to work in 9 weeks’ time after maternity leave and have been told I need to travel to another store for some “refresher” training.  Although the other store is not that far away I have explained to my boss that due to childcare issues and the fact I don’t drive, this would be awkward for me. I have asked if I can do some keep in touch days which I was told I would need before and during my leave, although this never happened, but my manager says no as he thinks it’s too close to Christmas, I have asked if I can’t just train on the job, but he says no as he thinks I would just “get lost” and “come  unstuck” which quite frankly I find a little insulting since I’m a fast learner and I have even been told I will always have another member of management working with me to begin with anyway if I did get stuck!  Any compromises I suggest he has said no and insists that me going to another store is standard procedure/policy which I know to be untrue after speaking with our head office. I am really not trying to be difficult and otherwise can’t wait to get back to work, but is my boss being unreasonable? What if I refused to travel? Where do I stand?

It is unfortunate that your boss is putting you under undue stress while you are still on maternity leave and it appears that you have been diligent in following up with regards to keeping in touch days which are implemented as much for the benefit of the employer as it is for you.

Depending upon the duration of your maternity leave, you are entitled to return to the same job you performed prior to going on maternity leave and your employer cannot place pre-conditions on such a return, if your job is still available.

It is also important to check the terms of your contract of employment in relation to provisions concerning your duties and indeed your place of work.

Since 1 April 2007 a woman may work during maternity leave for up to ten days for her employer (referred to as “keeping-in-touch” or KIT days) without bringing her maternity leave to an end.  One of the most common ways in which KIT days are used in practice is for training.  Whilst you do not have the right to work KIT days without your employer’s agreement, it does seem reasonable for you to suggest undertaking training on a KIT day.

If travelling to the other store places you at a disadvantage regarding your childcare responsibilities, and your employer refuses to take account of your concerns in respect of this, this may amount to indirect sex discrimination.  In any event, it appears that head office have confirmed that it is not company policy to require you to train at another store when returning from maternity leave. It would be worth revisiting this conversation with your boss in writing clearly setting out why training in the other store would place you at a significant disadvantage with childcare and offering alternatives.  If necessary, you should utilise your employer’s grievance procedure.

Another solution may be to submit an application requesting a flexible working arrangement which you are legally entitled to if you have been with this employer for a consecutive 26 weeks.

This is governed by strict procedure and your employer can only refuse the request based on one of the following grounds only:

– The burden on the business of any additional costs incurred

– Detrimental effect on its ability to meet customer demand as a result

– The inability to recruit additional staff

– The detrimental impact on the quality of the business as a result

– The insufficiency of work during the periods that the employee proposes to work

– Planned structural changes

The law protects mothers from the beginning of their pregnancy until the end of maternity leave so you cannot be unfairly treated in the workplace in connection with the fact that you have taken maternity leave.  If your boss refuses the above and the situation escalates to dismissal, you may have a strong case for both unfair dismissal and unlawful discrimination.  However, you ought to be successful in your negotiations before matters reach such a serious stage.

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