I am currently on annual leave immediately following a nine-month period of maternity leave. Yesterday I was informed by my employer that I am at risk of redundancy, along with all other permanent members of the team. Whilst I was on maternity leave, my job was changed so that rather than covering two geographical areas, I was only covering one. I was told this would happen, but I did not receive anything in writing or a variation to my contract, which I had always received in the past when my salary changed. If my job can be changed in this manner by my employer, I don’t understand how I can now be at risk of redundancy? Yesterday I was provided with the new organisational structure and job descriptions of roles I can apply for. It appears my current role still exists, albeit with a new job title and reporting line. I have also discovered that one of roles that has been created in the new structure which suits my skills was advertised internally and externally two months ago (during my maternity leave), with a closing date of earlier this month. Was my role potentially redundant whilst on maternity leave since it seems the new structure must have been approved and put in place in order to advertise this new role?
I note that since returning from maternity leave you have been informed that your role is at risk of redundancy. You also have concerns that your role was potentially made redundant whilst you were on maternity leave, but you were not told. I further note that your role was also varied whilst you were on maternity leave.
Generally speaking, when returning from maternity leave you are entitled to return to your old job. Where that is not possible (for a reason, other than redundancy), then you are entitled to return to a different job which is both suitable and appropriate in the circumstances. Where a redundancy situation does occur whilst you are on maternity leave then special provisions apply. In these circumstances you are entitled to be offered any suitable alternative employment with your employer, with priority over other employees who may also be affected.
If you feel that your employer withheld the information about the redundancy because you were on maternity leave and/or have suffered less favourable treatment since returning to work because of your maternity leave then you may have grounds to claim pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Such claims must be brought in the employment tribunal within three months of the discriminatory act and the Acas pre-conciliation procedures must be complied with. I would, however, advise that you take specific legal advice before submitting any claim.
I would also note that your employer should have tried to make “reasonable contact” with you during your maternity leave. What is “reasonable” can depend on individual circumstances, but it is reasonable to believe that you should have been informed of the redundancy situation or any suitable vacancies (such as the one you mentioned in your question) which arose during your maternity leave. If not, then you may have grounds to claim unfavourable treatment contrary and/or unlawful detriment. Again, I would suggest that you take further specific legal advice about this before submitting any claim.
In terms of next steps, I would advise you hold an informal meeting with your employer to discuss your concerns. If this does not resolve the matter then you may look to submit a grievance against your employer if you believe they have failed to handle the redundancy process fairly or have discriminated against you. If this does not solve the problem then you should look to discuss your options with a solicitor.
Should you require any further clarification regarding the above issues then please contact Tracey Guest at Slater Heelis LLP on 0161 672 1425.
*Helen Frankland assisted with answering this question.