Returning to work after maternity leave part time

I have said informally that I would like to return to work three days per week in February after 9 months of maternity leave. My employers are volunteer trustees and my role is the most senior in the charity. I have suggested that I could do my role in three days with a two day per week assistant. They have said no and that they want to keep my cover on full time to do half my job and I can have the other half. So I will lose half my remit and share my seniority. Practically this will not work well in our small business, financially it isn’t viable and my cover would be impossible to work with. I wanted to know if legally I can stop them doing this. Do I have any right to keep the same job description of my full-time job if I want to return part time?

senior and high-calibre experienced and motivated individuals


I’ve tried to answer your question based on the information given – there are some gaps, so I suggest you obtain formal advice based on the full facts.

The rules regarding return to work following maternity leave are set out in Regulation 18 of the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999, as amended. You are entitled to take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave following the birth of your baby.

The maternity leave is split into two periods and different rules apply to return to work in either of those periods.

The first 26 weeks of maternity leave is known as Ordinary Maternity Leave. The second 26 weeks is known as Additional Maternity Leave.

You only have the right to return to the same job, working the same hours you were employed to do before you took maternity leave if you return to work within Ordinary Maternity Leave (within the first 26 weeks).

During Additional Maternity Leave (weeks 27-52 of your maternity leave), you can only return to the same job if that is still reasonably practicable. There is more flexibility available to the employer.

If it is no longer the case, your employer must provide you with a suitable and appropriate alternative job role.

“Suitable” and “appropriate” should be a job role as near as possible to what you were doing before you left for maternity leave.

Your role, however, was full–time and you want to return to work under a different basis.

You want to change the terms of your job from a full-time to part-time basis. You are requesting a change to your employment contract.

Based on my interpretation of your question, you want to do your job in three days instead of five, with an assistant covering your non-working days.

You are therefore seeking to negotiate different terms to your hours of work, and this will impact your job description.

You have said that you have informally requested this and your proposal has been rejected. It is interesting that your employer proposes to keep your replacement on full time together with you on part-time hours. There are some questions which arise from that, the answers to which will impact upon any advice given:

  1. Has your role expanded so much that it needs 1.5 people at the same level of responsibility (a full-time and part-time person) or will the full-time person take on additional responsibilities?
  2. Is your maternity leave cover paid less than you and therefore cheaper?
  3. Is your maternity leave cover more junior?
  4. Is your maternity leave cover a man?

You are entitled to request flexible working under the statutory right to request flexible working. This right is available to employees with at least 26 weeks’ employment to enable them to care for a child up to the age of 17 (18 if disabled) or for a spouse or immediate relative.

Under this statutory right your employer has a statutory duty to consider your request, must go through a specific process and can only reject the request for specific business reasons, outlined in writing.

You might want to think about making this request although it is a right to make the request and have it considered not a right to work flexibly automatically.

The application

  • be made well in advance of when you want it to take effect;
  • be in writing (whether on paper or electronically);
  • be dated
  • state that the application is made under the statutory right to request a flexible working pattern;
  • give details of the flexible working pattern you are applying for, including the date from which you want it to start;
  • explain what effect you believe the new working pattern would have on your employer, and how any effects might be dealt with; and
  • state whether you have made a previous application and, if so, when.

Your employer rejected your informal proposal and offered an alternative proposal. You have not set out your employer’s reasons for refusing your request. Any advice will be dependent upon the reasons given.

The rejection of your proposal may, depending upon some of the answers to the above, and any other facts potentially be Direct Maternity Discrimination and/or Indirect Sex discrimination.

Other claims may also be available but the key is whether the refusal to request to change your employment was unfair or discriminatory.

Your employer may be able to justify an Indirect Sex Discrimination claim if it can show legitimate business reasons for the rejection – costs and a requirement for full-time availability, given the nature of the job may be factors.

You can either choose to file a statutory right to request flexible working and go down a more formal route or you can file a grievance against your ability to change your terms and conditions and return to your role on the part-time basis you outlined.

Again, if you make a statutory request for flexible working you will have in writing the reasons for the refusal.

One final point, an agreed change to working conditions under the statutory request for flexible working will be a permanent change to your terms and conditions of employment. You won’t be able to make another flexible working request for another 12 months.

Comments [15]

  • Gemma says:

    Hi, I am due to return to work in august. I was a Assistant manager before I went on maternity leave (for 52 weeks) However I am going back as just a retail assistant because I can only work part time. They have told me I will only get minimum wage but I was on more money as an assistant manager. I understand I will not get the same yearly salary but a friend thought I should still get the hourly rate I was on previously. Is this correct?

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi, Have they basically turned down your flexible working request and offered you a different, lower ranked job? If so, you can choose to remain in your assistant manager role full time or take the lower ranked job, which can be at a lower salary if they have followed the flexible working legislation and the reason given for turning down your flexible working request is a genuine one. Can you provide more information on what they have done to [email protected]?

  • Traceymoney says:

    Hi I’m returning to work early after maternity leave I’ve been of for 40 weeks I requested less hours with early finishes (my work has just reduced a full time worker to 3 days a week for flexible working she has no kids but going to college) they have refused me even tho it’s only 3 hours a week less and said they don’t have cover for 2 hours a day for me to finish early but have come to accommodate her 3 days off they want to put me to a outbound sales line which I hate and stress me if I refuse this do they have to put me somewere else

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi, What official reason have they given for turning down your request? It will come down to whether the reasons are within the eight reasons allowed under the flexible working legislation and whether they are valid [it will relate purely to your job – your colleague’s situation, if they have a different job, may not be relevant]. Have you appealed? Could you reply via [email protected]?

  • Grace says:

    I have a question, I left my role whilst working agreed upon mon-wed hours. I took 52 weeks of maternity leave. My manager has informed me due to organisational changes whilst I have been away, the role I left (part-time) is now only available for me to work if I work full time. I’m unsure as to whether my part-time job has been made redundant or if my original part-time role has been changed to full-time without consulting me.

    My manager is only offering me a different job on part-time hours. Not my original job. Where do I stand?

    • Mandy Garner says:

      You are entitled to return to your original job after additional maternity leave or a suitable alternative [similar terms and conditions] if that no longer exists, eg, if it has been made redundant. You say it is unclear if your job has been made redundant. Is there any way of clarifying that and why they have changed the hours? They should, in any event, have consulted you on any change to your terms and conditions and gained your agreement to any change. Please email us at [email protected] if you need further advice.

  • Sarah says:

    I have a question I work in a nursing home and I am due back to work in July I have asked for flexi hours as I have no help with childcare . I have requested late starts however the co.pany have rejected me and no reason why other than I can’t start at that time. Is this maternity discrimination.

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi Sarah,
      If you have put in a formal flexible working request, they must give one of eight reasons for rejecting it. If not, you could appeal, noting that they have not abided by the legislation. If they do not allow an appeal or continue not to give a valid reason and show they have considered your request in a reasonable manner, you could take further legal action, but it is worth starting with a request for an appeal – see for more details.

  • Gemma Chisholm says:

    Hello I work in a factory full time 7 til 3:30 Monday to Thursday and 7 until 12:30 Friday. There is a warehouse there and offices open until 5. I asked if I would work 10:30 until 5 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but they declined and asked I can only work until half 3. So i said I could do is 9:30 until half 3 Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because childcare is too high. They said put it in writing. I emailed them and now they are saying “Whilst we would like to assist your return to work as much as possible, It was generally thought that 3 part time days would not be enough hours per week to cover the needs of the business.

    Would you consider compromising to 4 days per week? (Mon – Thurs – 9:30am to 3:30pm).”
    I already explained that I could not afford to work another day because I don’t have any family members to watch him that day too.
    He is going in to nursery 2days and my partners mum is having him one of the days as childcare is nearly as much as my daily wage.
    Can you help me please as I’m getting stressed by the situation.
    Thank you

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi Gemma,
      They have given an allowable reason under the flexible legislation and appear to have tried to find a compromise. Is there any way you could suggest your own compromise which would address their concerns about covering the hours eg a job share? Have you considered tax credits to cover childcare costs [see for information about help with childcare costs. They have an online calculator which gives advice on credits/benefits you may be entitled to]? Does your employer offer any help with childcare costs eg childcare vouchers?

  • Kelly says:

    I habe a question. I’m going back to work this month but am reducing my hours to part time. I haven’t used any if my holiday this year yet and have accumulated around 132 hours. I’ve been told if u change my hours when I go back I will lose it. Is this right?

    • Mandy Garner says:

      It would depend when you officially changed to part time. You would continue to accrue your leave at the full-time rate up until that point so if you only officially go part time when you start working your new hours you could add on all your accrued leave to the end of your maternity leave. You can carry over up to 20 days leave from one year to another if you have been on maternity leave and couldn’t take it in the year it was accrued.

      • Jessica james says:

        Similar query to this… i am returning on a part time basis (previously full) and have added the accrued leave on to the end of my May leave. My mat leave ended 2 April. My annual leave ends 2 June. Do they pay me part time from April or June?

        • Mandy Garner says:

          Has your employer sent you a letter or email, confirming your part-time hours and does it state in there when your new contracted hours date from?

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi im a mobile supervisor and im contracted to do 40 hours a week however i may not do 40 a week as long as i do 80 hours a fortnightly i meet the contracted hours. I was on adoption leave 2 years ago, the week i was due back i was told the job i had, was going, so rather then been made redundant they said they will transfer me to another team.
    As i was going to put the child in nursery when i come back as i knew that the contract i was doing before i left was flexible i didnt think it would be a problem for me. However as soon as i was told about the changes i said straight away i would find this hard, as the new job meant more set hours ie my early start is 6 my late is 8 at night i dont have set hours as long as i do 80 a fortnightly. They said for me to try it. Which i have done but it has been very hard and coped up till now. But as im struggling I have asked if i could job share but i cant do that as i use a company vehicle the other person or myself would find it hard to pass it on. Ive asked for another person to do some of the areas and i would do theirs but as most of the areas are set times and the clients are used to that person it wouldnt work so was told i cant do that either. Im trying different ways but it feels what ever im trying i get knocked back. Can they do this??

    Editor: Did this all happen two years ago and when they made the change and said to try it, did they give an end date to the trial and say they would review it? If you agreed to the change without any stipulations over review then the only way you could change it would be through filing a formal request for flexible working, which you may have done. Your employer can turn down a request on any of eight grounds – see If you feel the grounds on which they have rejected your appeal are not reasonable, you can appeal, but it would be a good idea to take into account their concerns and reach a compromise. 

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