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I am a self-employed NHS dentist. As part of my contract I receive maternity pay, sick pay (after a deferment period of 4 weeks) and a pension. I have been on maternity leave and whilst on maternity leave have been suffering a medical condition which has meant I have been unable to return to work. I am currently being paid sick pay. I believe the treatment I have received from my contractor has deteriorated since my maternity leave started looming. Initially I was forced to give up a days work a week for 5 weeks prior to maternity leave to accommodate a locum who would replace me whilst away. Whilst on maternity leave, I was deducted laboratory fees for work done by other contractors on my patients who then claimed my payment entitlements on these payments. (The norm is for the contractor claiming payment to pay the lab fees). On pointing out this deduction, I was told several times it would be reimbursed to me, but the payments were never made (even upon chasing them up).
Since being off with my medical condition (which I have supplied medical certificates for) I have been accused in so many words of lying about the condition and claiming sickness payments fraudulently. On pointing out the facts regarding my condition (and providing photographic evidence), I was given somewhat of an apology with the immediate request for supplemental medical reporting of my condition. I have received an email today stating that the company requires reimbursement for their lost profit this year amounting to £27,000! They are contending that I owe this because I have not employed a locum to cover this work for the period I have been off, despite the fact that I have written evidence that they prefer to employ their own locums and that they have secured such locum cover. The tone of emails since I went off on maternity leave has gradually deteriorated and is now formal and to the point rather than friendly as they previously were. I am contractually obliged to return once my medical condition has recovered, but feel I am being forced out now by this poor treatment. I should appreciate any advice as this matter is causing what I would consider to be undue stress at a difficult time.
This sounds like a very difficult and stressful situation and one for which you deserve sympathy. From a legal perspective I can see two possible avenues despite the fact that you are self employed :
Regarding the contractual position, if you have clear provisions which sets out the terms on which you are engaged, then this will help you with such matters as deductions of lab fees and such allegations as lost profit/engagement of locums. If the company tries to pursue you or you are unable to recover lab fees for example and there is a clear term dealing with this, then you may contemplate making a simple County Court claim for recovery of the fees. You could suggest arbitration and/or settlement before actually resorting to making a claim.
If the company tried to seriously pursue you for the lost profit, then you would have an opportunity to defend this before they were able to enter judgment against you so make sure that you are kept informed of any proceedings that they may choose to issue.
Since you appear to be a contractor engaging in personal services, you would be protected under the Equality Act against any detriment that you may suffer as a result of your maternity leave. If you consider that you have been treated in a worse and unacceptable manner since your pregnancy/maternity, the first step would be to make it clear to your company that you consider this to be the case and ask them to rectify the position. If they still fail to do so, then you may have a claim against them in the employment tribunal, but you would need to take detailed legal advice and a detailed statement would need to be taken in order to properly assess whether this is a route which would be worth pursuing.
I am conscious that this is your livelihood and that you would be reluctant to disrupt this unless there was a very good cause to do so. However, it does appear that you have been badly treated, and if you do not raise at least some of the issues to which you refer at this stage, you may lose all prospect of being able to raise these at a later stage. This is not least since an ability to make a claim would have to be made within three months of the last act complained of whether that is the last in a series of acts (as appears to be the case here) or a one off act.
In all these matters, since accusations have been made regarding lost profit of £27,000, it would be desirable in your case to take more detailed legal advice. If that is not possible due to the cost, I would contemplate going to the CAB or finding a lawyer who may be prepared to take on your case on a “no win no fee” basis. It might also be worth you checking your household insurance since an increasing number now also offer a legal advice service which does not only relate to property advice. If you are not sure, give them a call and check as this might result in you saving yourself a considerable sum of money.
I trust that this helps.
Whilst every care has been taken in compiling this answer, WorkingMums cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific legal advice.