Put on the bench after maternity leave: ask the expert

I am due to return from maternity leave in March after taking a full year off. I contacted my manager in January to come into the office. During our meeting I was told there was no job for me. As an IT worker, I would be put onto the ‘bench’ where I would need to search for another suitable job in another location. The company has been making lots of redundancy during the past 2 years. I have asked why I have been put onto the bench. They say it’s to do with demand from the client being reduced. I’ve been told I need to look for another job when I come back to work and they can’t guarantee it will be in the local area. I have asked about flexible working and been told that when a job does arrive I need to have a chat during my interview to see if the job offers that. In the meantime I must come into the office. I feel like I am being put into a corner here. If the job does not offer flexible working and is further away from home which will causes childcare issues then they believe that’s my responsibility to sort. In the meantime a voluntary redundancy notice has been issued. I have requested a quote. Are they breaking the law here. Would I still have a case if I took voluntary redundancy?

I need to have clarity on whether you are working as an employee or a contractor since the response would be entirely different.   If you are an employee, then you should not be being told that you are just on the bench and to look for another position.  You should be considered in priority for your existing position.  However, if that is not available then it is your Company’s responsibility to try to find you suitable alternative employment.  It is not for the employee to look for an alternative job.  If you are due to have a meeting, I would find out what the voluntary redundancy package is and also press them on alternative positions.  You would not be obliged to take an alternative position if it is further away from home and causes childcare issues – that would not constitute suitable alternative employment.

If, on the other hand, you are a contractor, then you would have very few rights and they could work on the basis that you are no longer required.  However, you may well have an argument that you are an employee even if you are called a contractor, since you have been working on the same contract for 10 years.  You will need to put these arguments about being an employee and then follow the guidance in the paragraph above.

I hope that this helps.

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