Do I need to attend an assessment just after having a baby?

I’m currently on maternity leave and have a two-month-old little girl. My work are making redundancies and require all colleagues to attend a competency-based assessment which is basically an hour long interview. I’m currently breastfeeding my little girl and am unable to leave her so will need to take her to the office with me. I feel really stressed and anxious about being placed in an interview situation and feel like I’m at an immediate disadvantage having to do all of this with a two month old at home on barely any sleep and with no time to prepare properly as I have another young daughter too. My brain feels like it’s full of cotton wool and I’m not in work mode. I’m really upset that I’m being put under this stress while I’ve got such a young baby at home. Can any allowances be made?

Congratulations on the birth of your little girl and I hope the sleepless nights have lessened by the time you read this response.

Employees on maternity leave do have specific legal protections in such situations.  One of these is that your employer must offer you any suitable available vacancies once it is known that your current employment cannot continue due to redundancy.

It’s not clear from your email whether this obligation has been triggered yet or not.

If your employer has selected all roles for redundancy (including yours) and has asked everyone to apply for the new roles via the assessment/interview, then the special protection has been triggered. Your employer must offer you any suitable available vacancies which exist within its business and that of any associated companies, without requiring you to do a competitive interview. The vacancy could be the new job as long as it is on terms and conditions which are not “substantially less favourable” to you.

If, however, your role is only “at risk” of redundancy and the assessment is being used to score your colleagues and yourself in order to identify the lowest scorer(s) who will be selected for redundancy, then the duty has not been triggered yet.

This means your employer can ask you to go through the assessment and you have no legal right to refuse. The company’s obligation to offer you suitable available vacancies will only be triggered once the company selects your role for redundancy.

In the meantime, you could write to your employer and ask them to postpone the assessment for at least a month. You should give reasons for this, for example, you will find it difficult to attend, will have to bring the baby with you as she is breastfeeding and this is likely to disrupt the assessment and limit your ability to focus on it properly. You might wish to explain you are not feeling yourself due to the lack of sleep etc so would not be able to put yourself forward in the best light, and believe it will be very difficult to find time to prepare for the assessment given the demands of two young children, breastfeeding, lack of sleep etc. If there is industry or company specific information you need to update yourself on before the assessment, make sure you ask them to send this to you and give you enough time to consider it.

If the assessment is an actual interview, you could prepare a summary of your skills, achievements and why you would be suitable for the position. You can use this as an aide memoire during the meeting and also give it to the manager to consider afterwards. 

Remember too that your employer should carry out a risk assessment and make adjustments to support you as a breastfeeding mum, for example, making sure you have a room or office (not the toilets) to feed baby in and giving you sufficient breaks.

If the business dismisses you on grounds of redundancy and has not offered you suitable available vacancies, then you could potentially claim automatic unfair dismissal and sex and/or maternity discrimination against the company. Remember that you need to follow the ACAS early conciliation process before bringing a tribunal claim, and that you have three months from the date of dismissal or the discriminatory act to instigate this process.

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