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I’m currently half-way through my maternity leave. A role came up within another department which I went in to have an informal chat about (my boss was aware). Despite saying they were willing to wait for me, they have now said they cannot and are going ahead with finding someone else for this other role. I plan to go back to my original role when my 52 weeks are up. I have recently been hearing through the grapevine that they are impressed with my maternity cover and want to keep her on in my original role. I hear she has been attending meetings and travelling overseas which I was never asked / allowed to do. I potentially want to go back doing four days per week rather than five, some of which I would work from home which I was able to do freely before I went on maternity leave. Is my employer allowed to keep my maternity cover on in my role? Other roles within the company are lesser so it would be a demotion if I were to move roles. Would I be expected to travel / work in the office everyday even though this wasn’t part of the role before?
I understand that you are currently half way through your maternity leave and are due to return after 52 weeks. You recently expressed interest in another role at the company, but it was decided that the role needed filling immediately and you were not selected for that role. In the meantime you have also heard that the individual who is currently covering your absence is performing well and that the company would like to keep her on.
You have asked whether your employer can keep your maternity cover and whether you would be expected to travel for work or work in the office every day upon your return even if this was not a requirement on you before your maternity leave. You also confirm that you would like to work four days per week instead of five.
Dealing first with whether your employer can keep on your maternity cover after you return to work: the first thing to point out is that when you return to work after a period of Maternity Leave which is 26 weeks or less, you are entitled to return to the job in which you were employed before your absence with your seniority, pension rights and similar rights as they would have been had you not gone on ML and on terms and conditions no less favourable than those which would have been applied had you not been absent; i.e. you have the right to return to exactly the same job you left and to be treated as if you had never been absent. You should be paid the same rate of pay that would have been payable had you not been on ML and this includes any pay increases that would have been awarded during ML. When you return to work after a period of ML which is longer than 26 weeks then you have the same rights, except that if reinstatement in your old job is not reasonably practicable then your employer can offer you another job which is both suitable for you and appropriate for you to do in the circumstances.
If you are concerned that you may be asked to travel or that you may not be permitted to work from home any more, it is important to note that an employer must consult with an employee regarding any changes to the terms and conditions of employment, which in your case would be a new requirement to travel and/or a requirement that you attend the office every day. You retain the benefit of your terms and conditions of employment during your Maternity Leave and failure on the part of your employer to provide you with these benefits or enforcing a change to your terms without your agreement can amount to a breach of contract which may give you the right to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal. However, I would advise you seeking detailed legal advice before proceeding down this route.
You also have the right to request flexible working. This right now applies universally to employees with over 26 weeks’ service. An employer can refuse such a request.
However, it appears from your email that no formal decision regarding your maternity cover or your role has been made. Furthermore, it does not appear that you have had any formal discussion regarding your role upon your return from Maternity Leave. In the first instance, if you are concerned then you may wish to contact your HR department and ask for confirmation of the current position/intention regarding your role when you return from Maternity Leave and to discuss making a request for flexible working. Once you have this information then you should take further advice regarding your options when you return to work depending upon the response you receive.
I hope that this assists you. Should you require any further advice, please contact Tracey Guest on 0161 672 1425.
*Lucy Flynn assisted in answering this question.