A restructure and role changed on return from maternity leave

I am due to return to work after 52 weeks maternity leave. During my maternity leave there has been a restructure. I have not been told or contacted at any point regarding this. My husband works in the same building, but a different department. From the limited information he was told (through colleague gossip – nothing official) the restructure only affected supervisors and above.

I contacted my HR department one month before my return date to discuss coming back to work. Less than two weeks before my return to work date HR phoned and said I could not return to my old job. They offered me a completely different job.

When I said I was not happy they agreed to organise an informal meeting to discuss it. At the meeting I was told my job still exists, but there aren’t the hours for me to do it. The HR manager said that ‘because I had been out of the business for a year, through no fault of my own, things have changed’. I was doing the same job as eight colleagues and they are still doing the job. It is just me who has to change.

I asked if I would’ve been moved if I hadn’t been on maternity leave and HR said it may not have been me, but potentially it would have; someone had to go as they had to lose hours. I asked if they could move someone else now so I could return to my old job and he ‘didn’t know’. I found that some of the hours were lost three months after I began maternity leave.

HR said I was not informed as it was not a redundancy situation. I have been offered three positions. Two are nothing like my old position. I said I would consider the other one once I knew more about it as it is a new department. I have been given very limited information about this role. HR explained what the role would be in the future, but not right now. It has the same managers as my previous position, but different duties.

The company does have a mobility clause that you can be asked to work in different departments and HR said that the company views everyone on the same pay as having the same status so they could put anyone anywhere. HR made it very clear they did not class this as a redundancy situation. Am I right in saying this is maternity discrimination if the only reason they moved me was because I was on maternity leave? Would I be compromising any case for discrimination if I accept a different position, even if I make it clear I’m not happy?

Your employer should have offered you your job back, especially as it still exists, or a job that is as close as possible to your old job, in terms of pay, status, hours and responsibility.

You have an entitlement to your old job after ordinary maternity leave and as close as possible after additional maternity leave, as here. But if the old job exists it’s hard to see why you can’t have it.

It looks like you have been discriminated against on grounds of maternity.

Furthermore your employer didn’t notify you of the change he proposed – this is also discrimination.

If you wish to take a discrimination case you have three months less one day from the date of the last act of discrimination – that would probably be the date on which you were informed you couldn’t return to old job.

You need to go to ACAS early conciliation before three months is up.

If the company doesn’t accept your request for your old job back, you could raise a grievance.
Make sure you specify the discrimination in the grievance or you may not be able to raise it further and what is the solution you want.

Think about what you want. Having a legal case that you could pursue at an ET does not mean it is the best option for you to do so.

Think practically, not just legally! Look at what is available and what works for you, but start in your grievance and discussions with employer from the basis that you should be in your old job and see what can be agreed.

If grievance/discussions don’t work take further advice and speak to ACAS.

*Abigail Oprey and Shan Veillard-Thomas assisted in the answering of this question.

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