Going on maternity leave while at risk of redundancy: ask the expert

My company announced in March / April time that they would be reducing numbers and therefore we would have to apply for a role. This was shortly after I had found out I was pregnant. My line manager and task manager were informed as I felt I was struggling and as I was worried about whether this would impact my application. I was told it was bad timing by my task manager and told not to worry by my line manager. I applied for a role in my exiting team at the same level and two others (we were encouraged to apply for 3) in different teams, same level. There then followed a period of waiting where I was signed off with hyperemesis. On my return I was told I was unsuccessful and was therefore at formal risk of redundancy.  The pregnancy was then known by everyone. During the time since then (1st June) I have appealed this decision due to the way the application forms were scored as I felt last year’s rating was used when I was not in the role long due to maternity leave. This was unsuccessful. I was then given three months’ notice, giving me a last working day of the day before my estimated due date. I have obviously been applying for jobs internally, but cannot really go externally as I would lose the right to SMP, although I do understand I could apply for Maternity Allowance. I have had a few interviews, but not been successful. I put in to leave early on maternity leave which was accepted. I have been signed off for several weeks now with hyperemesis. However, I attended an interview last week which again I was unsuccessful for. My line manager is saying that there will be some interviews held next week (which may be when I have started maternity leave) but I will have to travel for these 1.5 hours each way on public transport, which I don’t really fancy but will do if I have to. My question is whilst I am on maternity leave – what do the company have to do to fulfil their legal obligations to me? It is a very large company so there are new roles coming up on the vacancies list pretty much daily, although obviously not all are suitable for me, but I am certain that at least one a week (if not more) would be. What do I have to do whilst on maternity leave? Do I have to attend all interviews offered? Do I have to keep my eye on the vacancies board and apply for jobs etc.?

Employment law includes specific protection for pregnant women to ensure that any difficulties are minimised and that they are not disadvantaged because of pregnancy and taking maternity leave.

During what is known as the ‘protected period’ women are entitled to special consideration from the beginning of pregnancy through to the end of their maternity leave. In answer to your first specific question, your employer is obligated by law to offer you suitable positions during your maternity leave and you should not have to go through an interview.

The law also states that while you are on maternity leave they must offer you any available suitable vacancies before any other employee. It is worth keeping an eye on the internal noticeboard for suitable roles while on maternity leave and proactively working with your employer to find a suitable position. If your employer is part of a group of companies then you will also be entitled to be offered suitable vacancies in any group companies.

It is also worth asking for feedback on the criteria on which your scoring for the previous applications has been set against. If there is evidence that your pregnancy and imminent maternity leave proved detrimental to your scoring, you may have a claim for sex discrimination. ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) recently issued guidance to employers on redundancy and maternity leave and this gives employees a good steer on their rights; you can access this via the following link.

I would recommend that you seek initial legal advice where a more detailed discussion can take place.

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