I am sorry to read about the situation you are facing returning to work and the changes to...read more
Earlier this year I requested a job description and pay review as I felt that my job description was out of date and I felt I was doing more than my job description required of me. I was also aware, that once they search for my maternity cover they would probably want to review it so I wanted to start this discussion to have an input and also shape a job that reflected a more accurate picture of what I was doing. I was worried my maternity cover would have elements included in their job description that I have asked for, but was reassured that they would only be hired to cover administrative roles. I was denied a job and pay review and was told any additional work I’ve been doing constituted ‘development opportunities’. My manager met with me to say that the job description will now be reviewed for the maternity cover. I asked if they will be on a higher salary than me and was told this might happen. I’m now worried the job description will be more up to date than mine, either making mine at risk of redundancy or I will return to a job that is out of date, with no chance for an updated job description or pay when there is a clear need for it. What can I do?
It sounds as though you handled the original situation really well by taking the proactive step of raising it with the business and asking to review your job description with them collaboratively.
Often job descriptions become out of date and are issued when an employee starts a role, but are not updated afterwards. The role itself morphs and changes but the job description doesn’t change with it. If you ever had to challenge it in a tribunal though, the tribunal would look at the actual role you had been doing in practice and not just the written job description.
However, as you have raised it with the company and it is on their radar it is important to now deal with it as they have suggested they are going to update some job descriptions, but not all of them.
As you’ve identified; unfortunately there is a risk that if they recruit for a role which is similar but different to yours then this could affect your return to work after maternity leave. Depending on how much maternity leave you take you have the legal right to return to either the same or similar job as the job you left. It’s therefore important for you to make sure that the job you are leaving is the job you would be expecting to come back to; especially now that these issues have been raised. It’s likely to be too late if you wait until you are due to return to work after maternity leave before addressing it with them.
You mention in your email that you are concerned your role could be redundant or you could be made to work at a lower salary without the option for reviewing it with them. If the business tried to make you redundant after your return from maternity leave, you would potentially have arguments that you should be pooled with the person doing your maternity leave cover and you should therefore be considered together for the remaining role. This would particularly be the case if your existing tasks are all covered by this one person and the role isn’t substantially different in practice. If that happened you would be able to use your previous role and experience with the company as strong deciding factors over the person who has only just started with the company to cover your maternity leave. If you waited to see if the company took this approach though, it’s likely you wouldn’t find out what was going to happen until the end of your maternity leave which could make the process very stressful for you.
In terms of navigating the situation, I would instead recommend you submit a formal grievance now. You could refer to your conversation with your manager as the reason for starting the grievance now. You should summarise in the grievance the factual background; i.e. the fact your request to review your own job description and pay was refused, but the business is now reviewing it for your maternity cover. I would also recommend you included details about your concerns that this is only being done because you are pregnant and going on maternity leave and you are concerned that they are setting things up so that your role will not exist when you are due to return to work. You could explain that you would have expected this review to have taken place with you and for the maternity cover to then be employed to cover the role whilst you were off so that you could pick it up again when you returned.
I would also recommend that you use the word “discrimination” in the grievance. It is a fine balance because you don’t want to mention it too many times, but it is important that you explain that you are concerned that they refused your request to review the job description and your request for a salary review because you are pregnant and due to take maternity leave and you are concerned that these actions are discriminatory. The fact that they are prepared to carry out the review more widely and that the changes will apply to the person covering the role suggest that there are no other business reasons for refusing to carry out the review with you and therefore you could point to your pregnancy as the key distinguishing factor.
Whilst you might not want to mention it in the written grievance, at the grievance meeting you may also want to check with them whether they are offering a fixed-term contract for your maternity cover. This would give you a lot more protection as it should mean the person covering your role would only be there until you returned. Normally, maternity cover contracts will specify they end when the person that is being covered returns to work. If the business are not doing this, and you ask them about it, they will have to explain why as part of the grievance and this might give you more information about what they are planning to do.
Unfortunately, sometimes businesses make these types of decisions without having thought about the consequences or appreciated the impact they will have on the individuals concerned. I really hope that this is what has happened here and that the managers involved will realise the mistake they have made when looking at your grievance and will correct it for you.
If they don’t deal with your grievance properly or you have any other concerns you would then need to consider whether you wanted to challenge it further by contacting ACAS and considering bringing a tribunal claim against them or whether you wanted to wait and see what happens when you return from maternity leave. The merits of these options will depend on what happens during the grievance process but if you did decide you wanted to challenge it further, you would have three months less one day from the date of the act you are complaining about. To be on the safe side I would recommend you treated this as the day you were told you were being denied a job and pay review.
*Charlotte Farrell and Tabytha Cunningham are Associate Solicitors at Paris Smith in Southampton. Both mums of two, they have worked together for over ten years, deciding to combine forces as a job share in 2017 – and have job shared ever since.