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I recently returned to work early whilst on maternity leave after 31 weeks of maternity leave. I emailed my new boss whilst on maternity to arrange meetings to discuss me returning to work and I requested to come back part time, purely on the basis that another colleague with the same job title as mine had previously gone on maternity leave and was allowed to return back to work on a part-time basis. I was informed that this would be looked into for me and I then requested a second meeting following email confirmation that I was allowed to return to work part time. In the first meeting it was discussed for me to return to work in May and two weeks before this I was asked to come in to finalise my return to work date. It was in this meeting I was told I was to be given a less ‘demanding’ role from my previous role and that I would not be allowed to return to this role once I came back full time. I emailed my employer once we left the meeting explaining I was very upset with this decision, I had not been asked if I would be happy to take on this new role, I was not given the chance to appeal this new role and I was made to feel like this was my only option or I would have to leave the company as they would not allow me to return back to my previous role.
I was diagnosed with post natal depression and anxiety which was my reason for returning back to work early as I felt I need routine back in my life and money worries were making my anxiety worse. I now feel excluded, and not part of the team any more. My new role is causing me to spend most of my days bored and without work and I advised my employer that if I was told I would be doing this role before I finalised my return to work date I would have stayed off on maternity leave as long as possible and then returned back full time straight away so I could have gone back to my previous job. Do I have any rights when it comes to this? I feel like I am being punished for going on maternity leave.
I note from your question that two weeks prior to you returning to work after maternity leave you were told that you were to be given a less ‘demanding’ role than your previous one, and that you would not be allowed to return to this role once you came back full time. I further note that you explained to your employer how disappointed you were about this and that you were not given the right to appeal the decision.
As a starting point, it is important to remember that when you return from maternity leave, you are entitled to return to the same job, on the same terms and conditions of employment as if you had not been absent (unless a redundancy situation has arisen). If it is not reasonably practicable for your employer to allow you to do so, you should be offered suitable alternative employment on terms and conditions that are no less favourable than the job you were doing prior to maternity leave. Therefore, even though your request to work part time was granted, you should still have returned to the same job.
If you were not permitted to return to the same job and if your employer did not offer a suitable alternative job, assuming that this is not a redundancy situation, your employer may be at risk of a claim of pregnancy/maternity discrimination and/or unlawful detriment. If you chose to resign from your position as a response to your employer’s actions, you may also be able to submit a claim for constructive dismissal on the basis that your employer has fundamentally breached your contract of employment and you have resigned in response. They may also be at risk of disability discrimination (due to the fact that you were previously diagnosed with post natal depression and anxiety).
Due to the complexities of your situation I would recommend that you take further specific legal advice on your next steps ASAP. Please note that claims for discrimination have to be submitted to a tribunal within a period of three months from the date of the act to which the complaint relates and you also have to have undertaken the Acas early conciliation procedure in order for your claim to be accepted by an employment tribunal. In relation to constructive dismissal, you would need to submit your claim within three months of your resignation (although I would not recommend that you resign without first seeking specific legal advice). Again, you would need to go through the Acas early conciliation process before your claim would be accepted by an employment tribunal. Before submitting any claim, I would also recommend that you submit a grievance to your employer in relation to your treatment.
Should you require any further clarification on the above points please do not hesitate to contact Tracey Guest on 0161 672 1425.
*Helen Frankland assisted in answering this question.