Sidelined by new manager: Ask the expert

I returned to work four weeks ago after taking 10 months maternity leave. It is a long story so I will try and shorten it, while on maternity leave I had a new manager and my old manager moved to another department. During my maternity leave there were changes to my position, it basically meant my role was being split up. I had very little contact with them during maternity leave and was not informed of any changes, most of the information came third hand. I really wanted to to retain the same or similar position which they were aware of but wanted to work four days a week. I was delighted when they said this was possible. I met up with my new and old manager who informed me that things had changed but there were lots of opportunities for someone with my skills and experience. I was excited about returning to work however I then found out that my new manager, who I had only met properly once was leaving. I went into work on my first day back and had a brief meeting with the new head of department who explained he was getting to grips with his new department and not making any important decisions. It then transpired a few days later that I was to be demoted because I could only work four days a week. This decision was made by a manager who had never worked with me. I complained to the new head of department, who was taken aback, I followed this up with an email and the following week he said it would be okay and they would come up with a job description. That was three weeks ago and I am still waiting, I chased them last week and he said they had a meeting but he needed to make changes to the job description. This has caused much stress as I really enjoyed my previous role, I am pretty sure the new job description will still be a demotion, please can someone advise me what rights I now have and how I should handle the situation? I feel I have been treated appallingly. During this time I have been given basic tasks and left to work alone – my self esteem is now very low.

You returned to work four weeks ago after taking maternity leave.  Whilst you were off there were changes to your position and you were allocated a new manager.  You wished to retain the same position but work four days a week on your return.  Your employers informed you that this was possible.  When you returned to work you discovered that your new manager was leaving and you were being demoted because you could only work four days a week.  You complained to the new head of department who informed you that the company would come up with a new job description.  You have still not heard from them.  During this time you have been given basic tasks and left to work alone.

If you have returned from maternity leave having taken Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) (the first 26 weeks of maternity leave)  you are entitled to return to the same job in which you were employed before your absence unless a redundancy situation or business reorganisation arose whilst you were off.  If you have returned having taken Additional Maternity Leave (AML) (up to 52 weeks of maternity leave) you are entitled to return to a suitable alternative position if returning to the same job is not practical. The fact that you have been demoted and have been given basic tasks to carry out clearly shows that your position is no longer “suitable”.

If your employers do not allow you to return to a suitable position then you could have a claim for sex discrimination against them.  You could also refuse to accept the new position and treat yourself as being constructively dismissed and bring a claim for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal. Furthermore, if fundamental changes were made to your position whilst you were on maternity leave due to either a redundancy or business reorganisation and you were not consulted with about the changes you could again have a potential claim against your employers for sex discrimination on the grounds of being on maternity leave even if the proposed changes are genuine.  I note that you state that you have been demoted because you are now working four days a week.  If the only reason for this is because of your request for part time work you could also have a claim for discrimination on the grounds of being a part time worker.

In view of the above, I would chase your employers for a copy of the job description, remind them of your right to return to a suitable position and your rights if they fail to comply with their legal rights under employment legislation.  If an agreement may not be reached you could pursue a grievance against your employers.  If this fails to resolve the matter you may wish to consider bringing a claim against them in the Employment Tribunal. If your employer is unable to offer you a suitable position but you consider that you still wish to accept their offer you could still bring a complaint of unlawful detriment and or sex discrimination in the Employment  Tribunal if you were able to prove that your demotion was because of your maternity leave. For now I would try to resolve the matter informally as set out above. I hope this assists with your difficult situation.”

Alexa Etheridge is a senior assistant for Davenport Lyons in London.

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.

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