I am 32 weeks pregnant, my maternity leave is due to start at week 36. Currently, my employers are looking to cover my maternity leave with a much junior role, which is part time. Can they do this? And where does this leave me, on my return? I’m worried that they will see this as an opportunity to make me redundant.
How an employer chooses to cover an employee’s role during maternity leave is entirely their decision however, the fact that they are replacing you during leave with a more junior part time appointment is not cause for worry.
The law protects women with regards to maternity leave and you have the right to return to the same role, with the same terms and conditions, following your absence. Your employer would not be able to retain the individual covering your leave in preference to you as this would expose them to a sex discrimination or unfair dismissal claim.
Employers have to be cautious in the way that they manage these situations. There have been cases brought to employment tribunal for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination where the respective employers decided to retain the cover in preference to the returning employee based on the fact that they had found the individual covering the fixed term contract to be more efficient in performing the role.
In these cases, however, the tribunal supported the claims as it concluded that had the incumbent employee not gone on maternity leave, the employer would not have had the opportunity to make the comparison.
ACAS recently issued guidance to employers specifically on how to manage maternity leave, it would be worth familiarising yourself with its contents giving you a good steer on your rights – see http://bit.ly/NpScO9.
An initial chat with an employment law specialist is advisable so you have all the facts to hand.
*Alan Lewis, is a partner and head of employment at Linder Myers solicitors and can be contacted on 0844 984 6075 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, including Alan’s profile details and client testimonials, visit www.lindermyers.co.uk.