Can you be forced into covering for someone on maternity leave?

I have recently started in a new role with a new company. I have quite a senior role within the organisation and someone junior who is not in my team is going on maternity leave towards the end of the year. I have recently found out that my employer is expecting me to continue in my own role, but also take on my colleague’s work while she is on maternity leave. I feel strongly that this is too much to ask me to do, particularly while I’m still very new and will actually prevent me from being effective at my job because of a ridiculous workload (doubling the number of staff I manage and the remit). I also feel that this is unfair on my colleague as it suggests that actually her role can easily be done in half the time. I have suggested alternative options such as me managing a maternity cover person so I am not being awkward. I just think that what is being proposed is both unrealistic and unfair on both of us. Is there any legal guidance on this? I would have thought that the public sector would have viewed this as an indication that my colleague’s role might not actually be required, with potential for redundancy? 

There is no statutory requirement on an employer to hire maternity cover during an employee’s maternity leave, though many will take on temporary staff to cover workload. Whilst it is not unheard of for an absent employee’s work to be redistributed amongst the team, I agree that asking one person to absorb another’s full time workload is unusual and perhaps unrealistic.

If you have not done so already, it is perhaps worth discussing why you think the plan will be detrimental to the business itself, focusing on how the increased workload will inevitably mean a reduction in quality of that work. Ultimately, if you are being put under too much pressure or are unable to complete your work without working excessive hours, this could be a breach of your contract.

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