Job share going on maternity leave: ask the expert

I am currently working on a job share basis where we work 50/50.  My partner has just informed the company that she is pregnant.  Today they told me that I need to have a meeting with my partner to discuss what is going to happen. I told them I didn’t know what was meant to happen and they said that they wouldn’t be able to find anyone at the same level as me to cover her.  I asked if this meant I would have to take the job full time or be out of a job!. Can they make me go full time while my partner is on maternity leave? Can they also make me go full time if she decides not to return?

You firstly need to look at your job share contract. There may be a clause in the contract which states that you must cover your job share partner’s hours when they are not at work e.g. on holiday or maternity leave. This clause will need to be very specific for your employer to rely on it and they will need to hold some consultation with you if they expect you to increase your hours to cover for maternity leave. If this clause is in your contract then it will be harder for you to refuse the increase in your hours.

Regardless of whether there is a clause in your contract requiring you to cover extra hours, your employer should also take steps to try and resolve the situation e.g. advertise for a new temporary job share partner. If your employer genuinely needs full time cover for this position and they can not find someone to cover your partner’s hours, then they may be able to dismiss you fairly. The reason for dismissal under employment law would be ‘Some Other Substantial Reason’. To dismiss you, your employer would need to show good business reasons as to why full time cover is needed and be able to show that they were unable to recruit someone to cover the hours. They would also need to consult with you prior to dismissing you. If they do not follow all these steps then you could have a claim for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination.

At this stage, you need to talk to your job share partner about the possibility of you both losing your jobs and how you can try and work the job share while she is absent. Ask how long she may take off as maternity leave (if it is a short time, then maybe you would be willing to increase your hours on a temporary basis). Also consider whether you could offer a compromise to your employer e.g. that you will work 75% of the hours. Could the job be done in that time instead of full time? If you manage while one of you is on holiday, then how does this work? Could this work for the duration of the maternity leave? Could you take on the more senior tasks and your employer recruit a more junior person on a temporary basis to do the more junior tasks? You will need to think about ways around the situation and then discuss these with your employer.

In summary, your employer may find it difficult to dismiss you for refusing to increase your hours if they do not have good business reasons for needing someone full time and if they do not advertise for a temporary replacement. You should put your comments and ideas for alternative solutions to them in writing so that you have written evidence should you need to bring a claim. You should also ask them for their reasons as to why a full time person is needed and why your suggested solutions are not feasible (if they refuse them).

Sarah Calderwood has assisted with this answer. 

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