Can you be forced into a role change after maternity leave?

I line manage a team of 7 people and am currently on maternity leave after the birth of my second child.  I will be returning in June following Ordinary Maternity Leave and some Additional Maternity Leave. Whilst I was on my first maternity leave, a member of my team stepped up to cover my role.  On returning, things never quite went back to how it was before and for the year prior to my second maternity leave my role was diluted and we jointly had responsibility for managing the team.  This was never addressed formally, but was encouraged by senior management due to a growth in our workload.  In fact, prior to my return my manager said that I couldn’t expect my maternity cover to just drop back to what she was doing before. At my  annual review just before going on maternity leave, although they were very happy with my performance, I was given an increase significantly less than the ones I had been handing out to my team because I wasn’t going to be there in the coming months.  Does this count as treating me less favourably than my colleagues because of pregnancy/maternity leave? Prior to finishing this time, we had meetings with senior management about a restructure of our team over the coming months.  My question is how much involvement should I have in these changes whilst on maternity leave and does my employer have an obligation to keep me updated? What are my rights when I return from AML?

There are two different elements to this question – the first part is around your job after you returned from maternity leave the first time and the second part is around rights while on maternity leave.

Focusing on the first part of your question, it is not clear from your information whether your first maternity leave was just OML or whether you took AML also. The reason that this is important is that legally, if an employee returns to work after OML then they are entitled to return to the same job that they had prior to starting maternity leave. If an employee also takes AML, then they are entitled to a similar job at the same status and responsibilities. Often an employer will give an employee the same role after they return from AML but the employer does not have to – just a similar role is sufficient.

Either way, whether you had the same job or a similar one, it sounds like they have taken away key components of it or “diluted” it as you describe and defended it as increased workload so the role being “shared”.

You also state that you were not given a salary increase to the same extent as your colleagues even though your employer stated that your performance had been good.

This, plus the fact that your role returning from maternity leave is not the same or “similar” enough to the one you left does make it sound like your employer has not followed the law appropriately here and that potentially you have been treated less favourably than your colleagues due to the fact that you went on maternity leave.

Moving on to the second part of your question on the level of involvement required from your employer in restructuring while you are on maternity leave. When an employee goes on maternity leave, it is appropriate for the employer to talk to the employee about the level of contact that the employee wants to have while on maternity leave. Some employees want minimal contact from their employer so that they can just focus on the baby at home. Some ladies want a monthly call with their employer or regular emails etc. This should be agreed upfront.

However, when there is a restructuring occurring and potential redundancies occurring, the employer has a legal obligation to consult with all affected employees, whether they are on maternity leave or not. So employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave must be notified of the redundancy process, invited to redundancy consultation meetings, included in the pool and considered for redeployment in the usual way. However, if employees who have actually commenced their maternity leave are selected for redundancy then special provisions apply to them. They must be given first refusal on any available suitable alternative employment over and above other staff who are not pregnant/ on maternity leave.

So, it is critical that you remain in touch during your maternity leave if restructuring occurs. If your role is not affected, then when you return from AML, then you would be entitled to return to a similar role in terms of status and responsibilities but not necessarily the same role. To get the same role you would need to return to work at the end of your OML.

I hope this helps.

Whilst every care has been taken in compiling this answer, WorkingMums cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific legal advice.




Comments [11]

  • Rachel says:

    I am a teacher in a private school. I thought I would return to my class for 2.5 days as before my leave but the head contacted me (via Facebook) to say, following a meeting, they would like to keep my cover on, taking my class full time. I have been offered a different role, covering staff when they are off. My pay will be unaffected. I didn’t think they could do this?

    • Mandy Garner

      Mandy Garner says:

      Hi Rachel,
      How long have you been on maternity leave? After six months you are entitled to return to your original role. Between 6-12 months you are entitled to return to your original role or a suitable alternative if this does not exist [eg not because someone else is covering it]. Your employer must show that it is not reasonably practicable to permit you to return to your old job. That would depend on what reasons they are giving for replacing you with a full-time role. Can you provide more details on this to mandy@workingmums.co.uk?

  • Kate walia says:

    Hi I am currently on maternity leave my company has had a massive change to the team where I am the only person from 4 with my current job title
    My manager and co workers have been dismissed and replaced with a new team

    I was not told about any of this im using holidays at the end of my maternity leave and have just received a letter from HR advising that on my return i will be updated on my role changes and new responsibilities

    Should I not have been keep in the loop about these whilst on maternity as they where happening rather then hearing and seeing from social media

    Thanks

  • anonymous says:

    I have just returned from maternity leave. I used to lead a team of 7 people and one of my male team members from New York took over the team when I left on maternity leave. Most of the team left the company soon after or moved department. Our manager decided that it is more cost efficient if the whole team, including the new manager moves to Singapore and that the new manager tries to build a new team there. They told me this about 2 weeks before coming back from maternity leave. They gave me a job which they argue as being of similar responsibility as my old position but it is not really. Now they told me that they want me to sign an “addendum” to my normal contract where they will add my “new” job description. I have been asked for the last 3 weeks to sign this addendum but I wonder why they keep pushing me into this? They have not given me an addendum to sign when I was promoted or took over team. Is all this legal? I went on maternity for 12 months. Thanks so much for your help.

  • Anonymous says:

    I am due to return to work after mat leave soon. My employer has added tasks to my role that were previously covered by a commercial analyst and these tasks are not within my expertise. Can they do this without my consen?

    Editor: They cannot change the terms and conditions of your job without consulting you first so if this was not in your job description – see http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/employment-contracts-and-conditions

  • Anonymous says:

    I have been in my job for 10 years. I will be taking maternity leave in 8weeks time. My employer has removed me from my post and employed a new person who is now doing my job. I have been put into a menial role. What are my employment rights please.

    Editor: On what grounds have they done this? Your terms and conditions cannot be changed without consultation with you. Have you accepted the changed role?

  • Anonymous says:

    I am currently covering somebody else maternity leave and they are due to come back in June, which is when my employer wants me to back to my old role on my old salary. Can they do that?

    Editor: If you are employed as maternity cover you cannot take the role permanently as the person on maternity leave has a legal right to return to that job.

  • Anonymous says:

    After x4 lots of maternity AML my employer brought in cover member of staff for my role. This person made massive improvements and changes and increased performance within the department. I have been shown up and outshone massively. Now Im due back my employer expects me to keep up that role with all the changes. Im not happy I just want the job back I was originally offered. What are my rights?

    Editor: Our HR expert Tara Daynes says: If the role & responsibilities are still the same but the required standards have increased (i.e they have raised the bar & expect her to do the same job only better) then there isn't much she can do about that unless she thinks the expectations are unreasonable. If someone of a similar level of experience etc. has been performing at that level successfully, then this suggests the expectations are reasonable. If the actual tasks have changed then she should check her job description – she could potentially have reasonable grounds for complaint if the JD has changed dramatically. But again it would need to be an unreasonable change, as it is perfectly OK for employers to expect progression & development within a job role as business needs change over time. So really she needs to go back & do some analysis of the role here (or ask her employers to) in order to determine whether or not she has actually gone back to her previous role, or one that is different enough to maybe constitute being a new job role entirely.

  • Anonymous says:

    After x4 lots of maternity AML my employer brought in cover member of staff for my role. This person made massive improvements and changes and increased performance within the department. I have been shown up and outshone massively. Now Im due back my employer expects me to keep up that role with all the changes. Im not happy I just want the job back I was originally offered. What are my rights?

    Editor: Our HR expert Tara Daynes says: If the role & responsibilities are still the same but the required standards have increased (i.e they have raised the bar & expect her to do the same job only better!) then there isn't much she can do about that unless she thinks the expectations are unreasonable. If someone of a similar level of experience etc. has been performing at that level successfully, then this suggests the expectations are reasonable.

     

    If the actual tasks have changed then she should check her job description – she could potentially have reasonable grounds for complaint if the JD has changed dramatically. But again it would need to be an unreasonable change, as it is perfectly OK for employers to expect progression & development within a job role as business needs change over time.
     

    So really she needs to go back & do some analysis of the role here (or ask her employers to) in order to determine whether or not she has actually gone back to her previous role, or one that is different enough to maybe constitute being a new job role entirely.

  • Anonymous says:

    I am currently in a consultation for my role to be transferred to another location whic is more thank 86 miles away. My role is due to transfer in Decemeber. I am currently pregnant and am planning on taking maternity leave before this. Can the employer transfer my role whilst I am on maternity leave?

    Editor: Can you provide more information? You say you are in consultation. When does this consultation period end and when do you go on maternity leave?


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