I am an HR manager and currently on maternity leave and due back soon after 12 months’ leave. Prior to me taking my leave the organisation underwent a big restructure in which redundancies were made. However, all departments were stable on my leaving. I submitted a plan for my department and was told my role was being changed and my salary increased. I thanked my manager – the company CEO – for this, though I had not had written confirmation. My proposal included a request to work two days from home and three from the office for six months and then to return to my normal pattern of one day at home and four in the office. When I received a written reply four months later l was told my proposal was too extravagant and not keeping in line with the cost reductions that had taken place. I was also informed that my title would remain as was and that parts of my job were to be hived off to a recruitment agency they were setting up. I was further informed that a role as senior as mine could not be worked from home and therefore my request had been declined. I was also informed that a new team which was to have been managed by HR was not now going to be. I responded, defending my proposals and asked if there could be a meeting schedule to discuss some of the changes that would impact on my role. I have to date received no response to this email and we are six weeks in from when I sent it.
I then had a scheduled KIT day. During the day I was told that my KIT day was being suspended because a confidentiality allegation had been made against me – unspecified. I guess I am worried because my previous emails have not had a response (although I have asked legitimate questions). I find the allegation odd as I have not been in the business for 11 months. I also know that the business has used this allegation previously when wanting to exit someone. They tend to say they have received an anonymous letter etc… What should I do? My maternity leave was also covered by an HR adviser for a 12-month period who I believe they are keeping on to head up the recruitment agency.
Firstly, your manager is the CEO and therefore would be expected to have the authority to bind the company. Their verbal confirmation that your title was changing to HR director and your salary was increasing is contractually binding and non-compliance with this would be a breach of contract. However, it may be difficult to definitively prove what your manager said and if they deny it, it will be your word against his.
Secondly, you have the right to return to your job on the same terms and conditions as if you had not been absent unless it is not reasonably practicable for this to happen, in which case you are entitled to return to a suitable alternative role. Failure to do so is a breach of the business’ legal obligations, as is a failure to inform and consult with you about the fundamental changes proposed or which have been made. Furthermore, retaining your maternity cover instead of you would be an unlawful detriment connected to your maternity leave and constitute sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
Regarding flexible working, the business’ decision seems to be at odds with the previous arrangement where you worked from home one day a week. Although not a legal obligation to meet you, I would have considered this a sensible approach given the circumstances. It appears from your email that they have failed to follow the proper flexible working process not least because they have not identified the reason(s) allowed legally for rejecting the new flexible working request or your right to appeal the decision.
It is possible the business is investigating the confidentiality allegation before deciding whether to pursue it through the disciplinary process. It is odd that they have failed to provide you with details of the allegation or confirmed the situation formally, particularly given your seniority and the manner in which it has been handled to date. It is also extremely insensitive, at the very least, to tell you such a serious allegation has been made whilst you are on maternity leave but not provide details. I can imagine this is stressful for you and the situation indicates to me that your employer is not behaving fairly towards you.
On the face of it, the series of events described suggest you are being treated unfairly on a number of grounds, not least being sex discrimination. I suggest you raise a formal grievance regarding your treatment, specifically their failure to (a) comply the CEO’s promise regarding your salary and title, (b) inform and consult with you about the proposed or actual restructuring or your role, (c) follow the proper flexible working request process, (c) allow you to return to your role, and (d) provide details of the allegation made against you. You should also ask them to confirm your KIT day next month will continue as planned. Depending upon their response, I recommend you take legal advice in order to protect your position.
Separately or at a later date you could also make a formal request for all your personal data by way of a subject access request although strategically it may be better to wait until your grievance has been completed.