I have been employed as a part-time employee for over nine years for the same company. The company I work for underwent a restructure last year. I was invited to a consultation meeting, but as I had just had a C Section I had to decline. I was then sent the PDF presentation of the meeting via email which suggested that my post had been made redundant. No one called to explain the email to me or what to do next, which I believe is a failing of duty of care. Three alternative posts have been offered, but all are on less pay and a lesser grade. I questioned on my preference form why other posts had not been offered as an alternative, but this was ignored. I opted for the best role offed and noted my part-time hours, but stated I was willing to adjust my hours to suit the role. I was formally offered this post via email. In the meantime other more senior jobs than I was offered have become available which I have had to interview for. In one of them I was questioned about my maternity leave and when I intended to return. I have now been asked to complete a flexible working request and to attend a hearing for the job I have been offered. Is this fair? Do I not have the right to return to part-time working if I was on part-time working before I left for maternity leave?
After maternity leave, you have the right to return to the same job you were doing before you left. Special provisions apply where during your maternity leave, it is not practicable by reason of redundancy for you to return to that job. In these circumstances you are entitled to be offered any suitable alternative employment with your employer (with priority over other employees who are also affected).
I note from your question that you were in fact offered three alternative posts yet these were at a lower pay grade. Any alternative employment needs to be suitable in that it must not be substantially worse than your previous job with regard to the terms and conditions, status and the capacity for the work. From what you say, it appears that the alternative posts you were offered were not suitable as the pay and grade are inferior. I further note that you have accepted one of these roles, but that you did question why other posts had not been an alternative and were ignored.
I note that more senior jobs have since been offered to staff, but you have had to interview for these. Whether or not you should have automatically been offered one of these positions would again depend of whether those jobs were suitable alternatives and were available when you were going through the redundancy process. If a suitable alternative vacancy did exist and your employer failed to offer it to you then any dismissal for redundancy would be classed as unfair and this would also constitute pregnancy/maternity discrimination. If you have taken a less attractive job, thinking that nothing else was available, but there were in fact more senior roles that should have been offered to you, you may have a claim for constructive unfair dismissal if you resign in response to your employer’s handing of the situation.
I further note that you have been asked to complete a Flexible Working Request and to attend a ‘hearing’ for the job you have been offered. As noted above you should automatically be offered any alternative employment that is suitable and thus should not have to attend a hearing/interview. You should also not be offered substantially worse terms and conditions (including hours). I can see from your question that you stated to your employer that you were willing to adjust your hours to suit the role and this may be why they have wanted you to make the Request. You should look to clarify this issue with your employer as soon as possible.
Any claims for unfair dismissal and for pregnancy/maternity discrimination must be brought in the employment tribunal within three months of the dismissal/discriminatory act and the Acas pre-conciliation procedures must be complied with. I would, however, always advise you to take specific legal advice before submitting a claim.
In terms of next steps, I would advise you to submit a grievance against your employer if, in light of my comments above, you believe they have failed to handle your redundancy process fairly. If you do this, you should state that you feel your employer’s handling of the matter has been unfair and discriminatory. Should this not resolve the matter, I would strongly advise you to take further legal advice in relation to your specific situation.
*Helen Frankland assisted in the answer to this question.