Much of my role advertised while I am on maternity leave: ask the expert

I’m currently on six months maternity leave from a senior management position. I’ve just seen an email that someone has been appointed to a role which is almost identical to mine, with the same remit and responsibilities, but a slightly different job title. This affects the remit of the role I’ll do on my return and also my seniority, damaging future promotion prospects which I’ve been aiming towards. I long suspected this. The company was going through an organisational restructure whilst I was pregnant and I was given no information on how my job would be affected. I pretty much felt sidelined during my entire pregnancy (my boss was openly skeptical about whether I’d return at all). I did postpone my maternity start date from 35wks pregnant to 38wks to help them recruit maternity cover for me. They hadn’t sorted anything out by my original finish date (despite telling them about my pregnancy at 10 weeks!) and were vague about cover plans (my boss cancelled all my last one to ones so I lost all opportunity to discuss it properly). However, my boss didn’t like the candidates we interviewed. When I went on maternity leave, it was all still up in the air and my role and future uncertain. I was pretty stressed by it all to be honest, but didn’t feel like I had any time to address it with them. This new appointment isn’t a maternity cover role, but I feel it directly affects my job. What are my rights? I feel really let down by my company, especially after I postponed my leave to help them sort this. I’ve always shown loyalty and had glowing appraisals and top bonuses. I feel like they wrote me off the moment I became pregnant.

The law protects women while they are pregnant and also while they are on maternity leave and you are entitled to return to the same job you had before taking leave with the same terms of employment and conditions as if you hadn’t been absent.

The new role may have been created as a result of additional business needs and it may be purely coincidental that the reorganisation has occurred during your maternity leave.

However, you mention that your boss was openly sceptical about your return from maternity leave which suggests that your pregnancy and subsequent maternity leave prompted the creation of a new role while you have been absent. Any subsequent redundancy that arises from a reorganisation and is linked or “related to” a period of maternity leave would be automatically unfair. It is always difficult for an employer to explain away decisions that are taken that effect an employee’s role whilst they are on maternity leave and these facts would be carefully scrutinised in any resulting Tribunal.

You may also have a claim for sex discrimination if your employer has failed to properly consult with you about the effects that the reorganisation may have upon your own role merely because you have been away on maternity leave. Similarly, if your status or promotion prospects have been affected by decisions made during and relating to your maternity leave, this may also be unlawful sex discrimination. It would be advisable to raise your concerns with your employer, either informally in an email or indeed by utilising your employer’s grievance procedure.

ACAS recently issued guidance to employers specifically on how to manage redundancy and maternity leave, it would be worth familiarising yourself with its contents giving you a good steer on your rights.

An initial chat with an employment law specialist is advisable before you return so you have all the facts to hand.

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