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I am on maternity leave and have been in talks with my employer (a school) regarding how they have failed to keep in touch with me and refused my part-time request. They offered me an alternative position of 32 hrs a week, but the time I would have to arrive in the mornings (8.30) will be seriously detrimental to my family (I have twins, plus an older child).
I would be up against the traffic trying to get to work for this time every day, and would still need full time childcare plus after school (nursery opens at 8am). I feel this would seriously compromise my family life and offer me a very poor work: life balance.
I have a 3-week phased return starting at 9am and although this is possible to try, I am very anxious, worried & concerned about the revert to 8.30. I do not feel at all ready to tackle this and it’s making me feel ill. My maternity pay was SMP + 12 weeks enhanced and I took this because at the time of going on maternity leave, circumstances at work were different.
However, things have now changed dramatically, with a different leadership and my duties are no more. I am aware that I will have to repay the enhancement if I do resign. Do you know how this will be expected as I have heard from a previous lady who did not return that it was expected in one lump sum?
My first argument to this is that I did not receive it in one lump sum so I shouldn’t be expected to repay it like that, but if I have no employment I will find it difficult to repay it at all!! My second point on this is that it states in my maternity letter and policy that it will only be repayable if I do not return to local government employment…I feel this is a very grey area as the council say I have to return to my original job and the school say they no longer buy into the council HR services as they are an academy (they were already an academy when I went on maternity leave so surely the letter and policy are as valid now as they were nine months ago?). I wondered whether I would be required to repay if I went to work for another school instead?
In terms of your flexible working request, your employer is under a duty to handle such requests reasonably – weighing up your needs against the needs of the school.
It should have provided you with some justification as to why it was unable to accommodate your flexible working request, as it can only refuse for one or more of the eight specific grounds prescribed by statute.
You should also have been given the right to appeal against the outcome.
I note the school has proposed an alternative part-time arrangement although you are concerned that this will not suit you (I am assuming your original start time was 9am before going on maternity leave).
You could agree with your employer to trial the 8.30am start for a reasonable period of time to see whether it could work, or alternatively consider whether there is another alternative proposal that you could put forward by way of a compromise between the two patterns.
Ultimately, however, if the school has complied with its duties, i.e. handled your request reasonably (which includes basing its decision on the correct facts), responded within the 3-month timeframe and only refused your request on one of the prescribed grounds, then it is entitled to reject the request.
In that case, you would still be entitled to return to your role as it was before you went on maternity leave, of course (or accept any alternative proposal). On the basis that the school has offered an alternative flexible arrangement, I do not think there are strong grounds here for a discrimination claim.
After maternity leave you are generally entitled to return to the same position.
The only exception to this is if you have taken more than 26 weeks’ leave and it is not reasonably practicable for you to return to the same position.
In this instance, your employer should offer you another suitable and appropriate role on terms and conditions that are no less favourable.
On the assumption you are returning to the same position, you say your “duties are no more”.
This makes me query whether there has been a breach of either an express or implied term of your contract which might give rise to a constructive dismissal claim, but I would need much more detail to advise on this point fully.
I would expect the schedule of repayment of the enhanced maternity pay to be set out in the policy. If it is silent on this point then I would need to review the whole policy to determine where you stand.
Even if this policy does provide for lump sum repayment, your employer may agree to a revised, less punitive arrangement.
As to the issue of whether or not the repayment is not required if you stay within local government employment, this is difficult to answer without seeing the documentation.
It may be the case that they are using antiquated documents that have not been updated since the school became an Academy, but from your perspective if the school is looking to enforce repayment on the basis of the document it gave you, then equally you should be able to rely on the terms of that document that relate to non-repayment.