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My partner has just been told she is to be made redundant. We’ve asked for any documentation related to the decision-making decision as we feel this isn’t a business decision. She has noticed a change in attitude towards her since returning from maternity leave and now being part time. The company have said all discussions were had verbally so there isn’t any documentation to share, although her company is a large one. Her actual working responsibilities have changed when she has returned to work. The company say that due to digitalisation her role is now redundant. The reality is that the work she’s been doing since her return isn’t at risk from digitalisation, as other colleagues are still doing the work in the office. So I’m confused what aspect of her work is affected – can it refer to her original responsibilities, which she hasn’t actually done for years (though kept the same job title)? Her manager also said that the decision was made within the six months of when my partner returned to work after maternity leave. My understanding is that there is some protection against redundancy for parents returning to work for the first six months. Is that so?
This is a concerning situation, particularly if the company is large and has significant resources. In order for this redundancy dismissal to be fair, the business would need to show there was a genuine redundancy situation and that it has followed a fair and reasonable consultation process with her. Your comments also indicate that the decision may have been predetermined and/or was made because your partner is working part time and/or has been on maternity leave, in which case the decision would be unlawful and discriminatory.
If the decision was made five months ago and they failed to consult with your partner at that time because she was on maternity leave then this is discriminatory. Also, if she had been made redundant then she would have had enhanced rights to be placed in any suitable role which was vacant.
I would expect the business to look at the tasks your partner is doing now rather than a job title and duties from several years ago. It is possible that digitalisation may mean there is a reduced need for your partner’s work, which could therefore mean a genuine redundancy situation exists. However, the business would need to pool anyone doing the same or substantially the same duties as your partner and place them at risk and consult with them about the proposals. They would then score everyone in the pool against objective criteria. If your partner was the lowest scorer in the pool, then it could potentially be fair to select her for redundancy. At that point we would expect the employer to invite your partner to look for alternative roles within its business and any associated companies.
Although the government had confirmed it was going to extend protection for six months after maternity leave ends, that has not come into law yet. This protection will not prevent those returning from maternity leave from being made redundant, but will impose more stringent requirements on employers in terms of offering suitable vacancies and looking for alternatives.
I strongly encourage your partner to appeal the decision and to ask them at the appeal meeting to provide a clear rationale for the proposed redundancy, the process it followed and why she was selected and why she was not told when the decision was made five months ago. Your partner should start making notes of all discussions with the business if she hasn’t already done so. If her appeal is not upheld or she remains dissatisfied with the business’ treatment, I suggest she takes legal advice and considers pursuing this through the employment tribunal process for automatic unfair dismissal and discrimination. She may also consider making a subject access request to the business asking for a copy of all the personal data they hold about her; further information about this legal right and a template request can be found on the Information Commissioner’s website.