Threatened with redundancy on maternity leave: ask the expert

I am on maternity leave and was told there were redundancies at work but my division was not at risk. Then I was contacted to say the my job no longer existed so I would be offered a job in a division which is at risk. I was told I could resign or continue my maternity leave. Can they do this?

You state that initially you were told that your division was not under threat of redundancy and you were not at risk. Then (and you don’t specify how soon after) you were told that your job no longer existed.  Within a Company the circumstances may change as business goes up or down and in the current recession, work and contracts can dry up over night. So a company is within its rights to advise that your division is not under threat and then at a later point advise that the situation has changed and that your division or your role is now affected.
However, there is a legal process that employers must follow in redundancy situations to ensure that they stay within the law.
1)      They must invite all employees who are affected by redundancy to a meeting to advise that their jobs may be at risk of redundancy. Here, the reasons for the potential redundancies are explained, why & how individuals have been selected, selection method to be used for deciding which employees lose their jobs etc.
2)      After this initial meeting, individuals must have individual consultation meetings where the employee has the right to discuss alternatives to redundancy, redeployment opportunities, selection criteria for selecting individuals etc.
3)      You have not mentioned the numbers impacted here but it sounds like a large number of employees at your company may be at risk. Legally if more than 20 employees are impacted, then as well as individual consultation, the company must carry out group consultation with trade union or staff reps. You have not mentioned whether this has taken place or not.
With regards to employees on maternity leave like yourself, the process is not different. So an employee on maternity leave should be treated the same as other employees – they should be notified of the redundancy process, invited to consultation meetings, included in the pool and considered for redeployment in the usual way. As long as a fair selection process is applied across the pool for selection, employees on maternity leave may be selected for dismissal by reason of redundancy. Obviously pregnancy (or absence on maternity leave) must not be used as a selection criterion for redundancy.
However, employees on maternity leave who are selected for redundancy have special legal provisions which apply to them. They must be given first refusal on any available suitable alternative employment within the company.
Without more information on your exact situation, it is impossible to confirm whether your employer has fully complied with the statutory redundancy dismissal process and whether you have a claim of unfair dismissal. However, your employer should not be requesting that you resign since then you would lose the right to a redundancy payment that you would be entitled to if your job role was ultimately closed down. You should remain on your maternity leave but ensure that you are fully consulted with and that your employer is aware that you have priority over other employees who are not on matenity leave in relation to alternaitve roles that become available during the restructuring.
Redundancy is a a very technical process as well as being very stressful for those involved. I would suggest that perhaps you contact ACAS who provide an impartial, free telephone advice line who may then be able to advise on your next steps. Their number is 08457 474747.
I wish you all the best in this difficult time.
While every care has been taken in compiling this answer, WorkingMums cannot be held responsible for any errors or ommissions. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific legal advice.  

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