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My question is related to my role after retuning to work following 12 months of maternity leave.
I have just returned to work and have been aware that the company employed a permanent person to cover the bulk of my role, albeit under a slightly different role title. In the last few weeks of maternity leave I had a phone conversation with my manager in which he mentioned he will need to speak to some of the management team to determine exactly what role I will return to. We discussed changing my previous part-time hours and reducing these further and how I approach this – he advised me to put the new hours I would like in an e-mail. I did this, but heard nothing. I have now been sent a formal flexible working request form. On my first day back the manager briefly mentioned there are a few things they could do, for instance, put me on some project work. I have explicitly explained I have the right to return to my role, and it is reasonably practical, the only blocker being the permanent person they recruited. He has responded saying the role has changed and they don’t think the additional tasks now covered within my pre-maternity role will be feasible with my request for reduced hours. I disagree with this, as the additional tasks are more of a junior level and the maternity cover has been recruited under a junior title to me so they could allocate those tasks to her and return my role to me. The other point to add is, just before I fell pregnant they had a ‘restructure’ in which they reduced my salary by £18k, but I had no rights at the time as I was still within the first two years of employment. However as part of this restructure they created an assistant role, which was never filled. The new tasks that my role has absorbed are also better suited to the assistant role. Please can you advise what I should/can do next?
If you return to work following a period of Additional Maternity Leave (i.e. 12 months) you are entitled to return to your existing job unless your employer can demonstrate that it is not reasonably practicable to do so. Your employer is then required to offer you a suitable alternative position on no less favourable terms and conditions of employment. However, it is likely to be found to be discriminatory that your employer has employed your maternity cover on a permanent basis, leaving you with no option but to return to an alternative role comprising project work. It would also appear that your employer is attempting to conceal the fact that your maternity cover has taken over your existing role by reason of giving her a different job title. However, a Tribunal will look beyond the actual job title and instead look to what responsibilities she is expected to fulfil. This will then be compared against the tasks and responsibilities for which you were responsible. You are right to ask for your existing role back, on the basis that it has not materially changed and it is not reasonably practicable for your employer not to hold it open for you.
You have also mentioned that you recently submitted a flexible working request in writing. Your employer should have responded earlier in accordance with the Flexible Working Regulations and the guidelines set down by ACAS. Since your return to work, your employer has taken initial steps to address your request. However, they appear to be changing tactics and now suggest that your role has changed and increased so as to no longer accommodate your flexible working request. There is credibility in the statement you have made, namely that the new additional tasks could be assigned to your colleague who holds a more junior role. This would certainly be a valid point to make to your employer.
The best way forward would be to talk to your employer, using the opportunity to gain clarification of why your employer is not structuring the aforementioned tasks in such a way so as to allocate the newly formed additional tasks to your colleague, in line with the earlier restructure and the identification of a new Assistant role. Such delegation and organisation would then open up a viable opportunity for you to return to work on your requested reduced hours in your existing role which you were carrying out immediately prior to commencing maternity leave.