I am on maternity leave, due to return to work in May 2010 after taking my full OML and AML. I recently found out from a colleague that my work has announced a major restructuring, has had a consultation period (now closed) and that the organisation’s new structures have been decided and will be put in place shortly after I return to work. At no point has the organisation written to inform me of the restructuring, and I have not been offered any opportunity to participate in the consultation exercise. I wouldn’t even have known about it had I not bumped into my colleague. I understand that the department I currently work in will cease to exist within the new structures. I have no idea what my lines of responsibility will be when the new structures are implemented, and from what I hear, the organisation is also now seeking voluntary (initially) redundancies. I feel aggrieved that my employer has not kept me informed about these developments and that I have not had the opportunity that other staff have had to contribute to the consultation. But did they have any obligation to keep me informed in this regard? I am also concerned that my job may have ceased to exist within the new structures and I am worried that any day now the postman will bring a letter telling me that there is no job for me to go back to! Is there anything I could do to protect myself? Has my employer failed in their obligations to me in any way which might help strengthen my position?
I am unclear as to how many redundancies are being contemplated since if 20 or more there are not only obligations to consult individually but also collectively with employee representatives. Whatever the numbers, your employer should have involved you in the consultation exercise, and by not doing so, you may be able to argue that you were discriminated against on the grounds of being on maternity leave i.e. “out of sight out of mind.” Furthermore, you may also be able to claim unfair dismissal on the grounds that although perhaps it is a genuine redundancy (and I do not have enough facts to establish this for certain) a fair procedure was certainly not followed.
I suggest that the way to strengthen your position would be to write to your employer and indicate that you are shocked to have heard by chance from a colleague about a consultation exercise that now appears to be closed and in which you had no participation. You feel that the only reason why you were not involved was because they had forgotten about you since you were on maternity leave, and that this is unfair. At this point there is probably no need to actually mention the claims that could be made, but I would mention that a person on maternity leave should be considered in priority for alternative positions and that therefore you expect to receive details of the new organisational structure and the roles you could undertake.
I am not certain whether you might be interested in voluntary redundancy. If so, you could simply indicate that you do not know whether you will contemplate voluntary redundancy, but would need to have a breakdown of payments which would be made if you were to take up that option. I do not know whether it is feasible for you to do so, but if you were to indicate that you may bring forward the time for your return, without specifying a date, that might focus their minds. With May 2010 being some way off, they may not have thought that it is particularly necessary to consider your position at this stage. This is obviously incorrect, but nevertheless…
You might wish to formalise your letter into a formal grievance to force your employer to deal with it under their procedure, but this might be something you might contemplate as a second step if they do not deal with your letter in the ordinary course.