I am currently on maternity leave and will return to work part time after nine months. I told my employers I was pregnant in August 2015 and from that time until January 2016 I was stopped from doing work I had previously done and from certain developmental opportunities. I worked up until a few days before my due date and although things had improved in that time I’ve just heard some information that has made me question my employers’ treatment of me during those months.
I’m a line manager for a team of a staff. We had been working on a project that I had been involved in since the beginning and needed to hire more staff to support the project. I had been the member of staff who helped to write policies and procedures and to practically put them in place. I am also strategically placed within the role. My manager has very limited knowledge and other senior management have no experience of the roles operationally. Where I had normally been involved in a practical assessment for all previous interviews for these roles, I was told that this was no longer going to be apart of the interview process and that as I had no experience I could not interview (my experience of interviewing for hospitality jobs was not seen as appropriate). I emailed our CEO explaining why I felt as the person with experience of the role and managing staff in the role I was an appropriate person to interview and that I would have liked the opportunity to progress within my role. I was told I could not be on the interview panel until I had completed management training, which they suggested I complete when I return to work. I have just learnt that my maternity cover is currently interviewing new candidates for our team. Is this something that my employer can do given that she is working within my role? My maternity cover has informed me that she put across the same argument as me and has experience interviewing staff.
I’m due to go into work for a KIT day to complete a six-hour practical assessment of the role. However, I have only had a few hours recap training on this .
Other issues during the months initially mentioned include:
I was told that I could not work up until my due date within a certain role even though a previous pregnant person had done. This turned into an argument until I could prove that this had been done.
I was stopped from providing training to an outside agency that had been agreed beforehand. My manager has been hostile and said she did not think my CEO would be happy or allow my antenatal class appointments saying I was only allowed time off for midwife appointments and that the others weren’t taking time off for them. Discussing potential role development on my return, my manager said ‘well of course we would like to develop you, but we don’t want to if you keep going off having babies’ and then laughed it off and said I’m only joking.
When I emailed my CEO about one of these situations I received no response. Instead my manager spoke to me directly and told me she would tell my CEO it was all sorted so I felt I couldn’t approach anyone about my issues.
Towards the end of my pregnancy my manager was supportive and tried to reduce how often and far I drove etc but my workload was incredibly high. I actually get on generally very well with my manager and find it quite difficult to accept the treatment I received in my early pregnancy. Have I been treated inappropriately? It feels to me that after announcing my pregnancy I was treated differently (and differently to other pregnant workers at the same time), that I was stopped from progression and from doing work that had been OK for me to do before and posed no risk to my pregnancy. To now know that my maternity cover is interviewing has made me readdress these issues and I would like some advice before returning to work.
The Equality Act 2010 contains provisions which protect women from discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity leave. You should not have been/be subjected to unfavourable treatment due to your pregnancy or maternity leave, and this includes any unfavourable treatment because of a pregnancy-related illness. The protection lasts during the ‘protected period’, which in your case will be from the beginning of pregnancy until the end of your maternity leave.
Unfavourable treatment generally covers being disadvantaged, impeded, or being caused difficulty and can cover (amongst other things) the denial of training, demotion or changes to duties. The treatment you have described could therefore potentially constitute discrimination. In trying to raise it with the CEO, they should have treated this as a grievance and addressed the issues you raised. In addition, if there was a pay rise while you were on maternity leave you were entitled to receive this pay rise too.
In relation to your high workload while pregnant, your employer should have undertaken a risk assessment to determine whether your workload needed to be altered to avoid any particular risks.
When you return to work you have the right to return to the same job, unless that is not reasonably practicable, in which case you would be entitled to be offered a suitable alternative job on terms and conditions not less favourable than the job you had before.
If you are considering bringing an Employment Tribunal claim, you will need to bear in mind that there is a three month time limit for bringing a claim. It is therefore important to seek advice promptly if you need this.