Role changed from part to full-time as I come up for maternity leave: ask the expert

I am employed as part of my organisation’s senior management team on 26 hours per week in a role I took on 9 months ago within an organisation which I have been employed with for 13 years.  I am currently 21 weeks pregnant and in a meeting with my boss regarding my maternity cover I have been informed that my role will be changing/restructured due to the ‘needs of the businesses’.  I have been informed that my current role of 26 hours per week is not allowing enough time for me to carry out strategic aspects of HR that the business now requires and therefore the more clerical and administrative elements of my job will be downgraded in terms of pay and hours and the strategic HR element of my job will become a full-time position of 40 hours per week on the same pay.  My boss has on a number of occasions made reference to the fact that I am overpaid for the job I do.  They are basically offering me the 40-hour per week position and are hinting that the downgraded HR clerical and admin job will go to another person.  They have not mentioned maternity cover for the full-time strategic HR job and I got the impression that if I did accept this position that they would expect me to cut short my maternity leave.  At this meeting I stated that I could not and did not want to work full-time hours due to my childcare requirements.  In 2012 in my previous job role within this organisation I requested to reduce my hours down from a 40 hours per week job to my current 26 hours per week due to childcare and ill health and my boss is therefore very aware that for me to go back to a full-time position is practically impossible.  Can you advise what my options are and where I stand legally?

Woman stressed at work



Broadly an organisation is entitled to restructure itself as long as the rationale behind the decision is not discriminatory.  If it is, then you would be able to issue proceedings for pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and potentially constructive dismissal.  In these circumstances it would be prudent to raise a grievance and take legal advice as to your options.

Where an employer is looking to change terms and conditions, such as hours of work, then it must consult with the employee over a reasonable period of time so that any queries or concerns are raised and addressed.  It would be appropriate for you to raise any concerns relating to the variation of your role during the consultation meetings and see if there is any compromise that can be reached, for example, whether your employer could employ another part-time person to assist with the strategic HR element of your role, or you could accept a reduction in salary.

If an agreement cannot be reached and you do not believe there is any discrimination, then you will need to make a difficult decision: accept the full-time role or not.  In the event you do not accept the role, the company could seek to impose the new terms on you, and you could either reject the change and claim constructive dismissal, or work under protest.

This is where you remain an employee but object to the changes and issue proceedings for breach of contract, for example.  A problem with this is you would be issuing proceedings for the monetary loss suffered, but there is none as you would be in receipt of the same salary. Alternatively, your employer could terminate your employment and offer you re-employment on the new terms.  As there would have been a dismissal, you could issue proceedings for unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal if you did not receive any notice monies.

In the event that your employer consults with you, has given reasonable notice of the changes and the decision is not discriminatory, for example, it may be able to demonstrate that any dismissal is fair and you would not be entitled to any compensation.

Alternatively, you could argue that a new role has been created and therefore a redundancy situation has arisen which means a redundancy procedure should be followed.  However, in the event that the full-time role is essentially your current role, this may be a weak argument.

Turning to your comment about the possibility that your employer may want you to cut your maternity leave short, it cannot make you do this.  You are entitled to 26 weeks’ ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks’ additional maternity leave.  Any pressure to stop you from taking as much maternity leave as you like would give rise to claims for discrimination.

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