Can my employer contact me while I’m on maternity leave?

I have been on maternity leave since the spring and am due back early next year. A new boss came on board in October and texted me that we needed to talk. This new boss is one I had worked for previously and I had been ‘bullied’ by him and almost left because of him.  I replied and sent him two text messages and said which days I was free to talk – he then didn’t respond for two weeks. I felt on edge and stressed during this time. We did speak on the phone eventually and then he contacted me several times in the coming weeks by text, email and phone. On a couple of occasions I got a text message on a Friday evening – when it was my family time. It has been completely on his terms. I have done everything asked of me because I am concerned that he is the person who I will be discussing my maternity return with and I am worried that he will not have my best interests at heart. Does this sound like usual contact during maternity leave? Did he have the right to contact me on my personal phone? I had a business telephone, but turned it off when I went on maternity leave so I could actually switch off from work and enjoy my leave and also so I was in control and could contact work when I was ready. Also the contract they want me to sign will affect me as the termination section is very different in that they are able to take my pay away during my notice period and any benefits if I do not return. Are they in their rights to pressurise me to sign a new contract when on maternity leave? I am supposed to be off work not thinking about work, but the level of detail I have had to go into to understand the contract etc… has been very time-consuming and stressful. I have been dealing with HR on this matter as I find it too stressful speaking to my boss. I sent HR a load of questions and clearly stated I wanted the questions to be asked in confidence – I got a response from them, but they copied in my boss. Is it not within my rights to ask questions confidentially?

Your employer can make reasonable contact with you whilst you are on maternity leave. What is reasonable to one person might not be to another and there is unfortunately little guidance. Most cases brought to the courts involve people who complain that there has not been enough contact such as in cases where job opportunities are not notified or employees on maternity leave are not consulted over restructures or redundancies.

Where there are changes to the contracts of employment, I would expect an employer to contact an employee on maternity leave to discuss this. If you have switched off your business phone, it would be expected that they would use your personal contact details.

It is not clear if they are just changing your contract or if all employee contracts are changing. If you are being treated differently to the other employees, particularly if the changes relate to maternity leave, that might be unlawful unfavourable treatment because you are on maternity leave.

I would encourage you to get specific legal advice on the terms they propose to change and your options if you are not happy with the changes.

It is unfortunate that HR did not respect your wish to ask questions in confidence, but if they needed your manager to provide or understand the answers, it is not surprising that they copied him into any reply.

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