Forced to share my job on return from maternity leave

I’ve been on maternity leave for 10 months from my job as a retail manager where I was the sole manager of a team. I made it very clear that I would be returning to work full time following my maternity leave and this hasn’t changed. My employer has told me that they have decided to keep on the person hired as my maternity cover as she is too good to lose, and effectively the job I did on my own before will now be split between us both. My salary and contract will be unchanged, but I am going back to half the responsibility and my role has massively changed. I feel this is unfair as, had I not gone on maternity leave, they wouldn’t have hired an additional manager and I would be still doing my job without another person sharing it. This also limits the scope for progression etc, as I am up against another person now for everything. Is what they have done legal or is it discrimination because it’s happened due to me going on maternity leave?

You have the right to return to the same job unless it is not reasonably practicable for you to do so. The fact that your maternity cover has impressed would not be considered a good reason for you not to return to the same job. The issue here is, however, not that you are not returning to the same job (your employer will no doubt argue that you are) but that the job role has been split in two so that they can keep your maternity cover.

Any unfavourable treatment because you have taken maternity leave is unlawful. Whether or not your salary or Job Title changes, reducing the scope or responsibilities of your role could be seen to be unfavourable treatment.

The question would be whether an Employment Tribunal would consider that this has happened because you took maternity leave or because your employer doesn’t want to lose your maternity cover. That is quite a finely balanced distinction. A sympathetic Tribunal might find that it was because you took maternity leave; another might see it differently.

You could raise a grievance complaining of maternity discrimination, explaining that it is not the Job Title and salary that concern you, but the status associated with managing the team by yourself as well as your concern that the new duties leave you with a lesser role in practice.

Ultimately, if you wanted to challenge the position, you would need to submit your claim for ACAS Early Conciliation within three months of the decision being communicated to you.

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