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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.