Losing out on a promotion due to maternity leave. What can you do?

I feel I’ve been unfairly passed over for a promotion that’s being given to my maternity cover, which my company’s in the process of recruiting. A month after I announced my pregnancy my line manager handed his notice in. Due to this, both he and the Head of the department have planned a restructure.
I had been told they wouldn’t replace my boss’ role and that the restructure involved recruiting two other new roles that are outside of my area. I don’t have a job description currently, so I asked if they could send me a copy once they’d written it. They never did. When I saw the role being advertised, the job description reflected my responsibilities, but they’d given the role a title promotion of manager and a pay rise. I can appreciate that to recruit asap they’ve made the role more attractive and increased the pay. But, can they award a title promotion and refuse that title for my role when it’s the same role? I’ve expressed an interest in progressing, to be recognised as a manager, a year ago. I’m confused that previous reasons (not having a direct report) for not being able to award me that title have been overlooked when recruiting my maternity cover. When I asked if I too would be getting a new title, I was told no. I should add that they aren’t denying me the promotion when I return, my boss said I’d be made manager. I suspect they don’t think I will return. My boss has strongly recommended not returning in the past. The reasons given for refusing me promotion include the cover could eventually manage a direct report; they want to recruit someone with a higher level skillset, capable of managing direct reports and managing the extra work left by my boss’s departure, but I’ve managed a direct report before; and the timing of “my choosing to go off and have a baby” means that I just miss out on the promotion because it coincides with when my boss is leaving. Should they have consulted me about the restructure adn the promotion and are their reasons for denying me the promotion valid? I have been doing extra work at the moment because my boss is leaving and it is considered unfair to ask a new person to do this.

pregnant woman working


From your question I note that you feel you have been unfairly passed over for promotion as you were told that the timing of your maternity leave meant that you missed out. However, the fact you are pregnant and will soon be going on maternity leave should not put you at any disadvantage in terms of your chances for a promotion: you should be awarded the role if you are the most suitable candidate. It appears from your question that you are already matching the job description for the promotion and undertaking the relevant responsibilities needed, although I note the relevance of the third reason given by your boss, which is that your employer also needs someone to cover the work left by your boss, who I understand leaves his employment just before you start your maternity leave.

It appears from your email that you will be effectively taking over the role from your maternity cover when you return: your employer therefore appears to be accepting that you are indeed a suitable candidate. It appears that the situation has not been managed appropriately by your employer and that you should, at the very least, have had the opportunity to apply for the promotion.

As I have said, you should not be penalised for taking maternity leave/for being pregnant. You would be able to argue that your employer’s conduct in overlooking you in the promotion process constitutes discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy/maternity leave on the basis that you have been treated unfavourably due to your pregnancy/your imminent maternity leave. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace is prohibited: it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate by treating a job applicant or employee unfavourably during the protected period (from the beginning of pregnancy to the end of maternity leave) because of her pregnancy or because of maternity leave. Unfavourable treatment does indeed frequently take the form of demotion, dismissal or the denial of promotion opportunities because an employee is pregnant or on maternity leave.

Any such claim for discrimination must be brought in the employment tribunal within three months of the discriminatory act of your employer. You must also go through the Acas pre-conciliation procedure before an employment tribunal will accept your claim. As a first step I would recommend that you raise a written grievance against your employer’s actions. If this does not resolve matters, I would suggest you take further specific advice in relation to a possible tribunal claim against your employer.

Should you require any further clarification regarding the above issues then please do not hesitate to contact Tracey Guest on 0161 975 3823.

*Helen Frankland assisted in the answering of this question.

Comments [2]

  • Victoria says:

    I recently got promoted and also signed my new contract with my new role and wage. I am pregnant and found out 2 months before being given the promotion. I haven’t told work yet but I am also really stressed and extremely anxious when I tell them this month they will take away my promotion as I’ve only just started the new role today. I originally didn’t get hired years ago by the company as this one female director told the managers that wanted to hire me that I’d be off on maternity in no time due to my age. When I finally get hired after an interview 6 months later she said to my manager “on your head be it if she goes off on maternity” I have none of this is writing but I’m close friends with these managers now. You can see why I worry.

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi, If you have signed a new contract and they seek to take it away solely due to your pregnancy, that would constitute discrimination. It is a good idea to keep a contemporaneous note of any exchanges going forward that suggest that this could be a factor.

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