Before I went on maternity leave, I made the business aware that I was hoping to re-locate during maternity leave with my husband and family. Various stakeholders said they fully supported my move and would help me. I was then contacted at recently by HR, asking me to get in touch with the HR person who covers the region I would be transferring to. When we spoke, she said she needed to be upfront with me and the likelihood is that I will need to return to work on a lower pay band as there are no vacancies. She also stated that if I was to return to my original region they would have to find me a job with my original T&Cs, but as I had requested this transfer they were able to downgrade me. Not only in pay but in status and career progression. The business knew of my intentions last summer and seven months later with my house sold and in the throes of moving with a baby, I was told that my income (on which my new mortgage is based) will dramatically decrease. What are my rights?
I note that in reliance on your employer’s assurance that your transfer was ‘fully supported’ you pressed ahead with your plans to relocate. It doesn’t appear from your question that HR discussed with you last year the likelihood that your role, post-relocation, would change. Any foreseeable changes to your role as affecting pay, level of responsibility or status to take effect post- relocation ought to have been agreed and notified to you in writing before you commenced maternity leave. It follows that your request to transfer to another region does not, of itself, entitle your employer to downgrade your pay, reduce your status or thwart your career progression. Should this happen for reasons connected with your pregnancy and/or maternity leave absence then, as advised below, you may be able to pursue claims to an Employment Tribunal.
Returning after Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML): You are entitled to 26 weeks ordinary maternity leave (OML) and 26 weeks additional maternity leave (AML). I note that you are currently five months into your maternity leave absence, but it is not clear from your question whether you intend to return to work following OML or sometime later. Should you wish to return after OML you are entitled to return to your original role on the same pay, hours, status, duties and responsibilities as if you had never been absent. If you are prevented from returning to your original job, then you may have a claim for discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity and a claim for unfair dismissal if you are dismissed.
Your employer seems to be suggesting that it is no longer open to you to return to your old job although the reason for this is not clear. If you cannot return to your old job because it no longer exists or because someone else has been appointed to it, you may have a claim of unfair dismissal. Your employer might seek to argue that your original role is redundant, in which case you ought to have been consulted prior to any final decision being made on the redundancy. If you were not consulted because you were on maternity leave then you may be able to pursue claims of unfair dismissal (if you are dismissed) and maternity discrimination, in the Tribunal.
Returning after Additional Maternity Leave (AML): If you intend to return to work during or after AML, you are entitled to return to your old job on the same terms and conditions unless it is not reasonably practicable for you to do so. Your employer should offer you a suitable alternative role, that is, one which is both suitable to you and appropriate in the circumstances.
If, as would appear to be the case, you are not offered a return to your old job following OML and/or a suitable alternative role following AML then it would be open to you to refuse to accept the alternative job, resign without delay and bring a claim for constructive dismissal in the Employment Tribunal or, accept the alternative job and simultaneously pursue claims of unlawful detriment and/or maternity discrimination in the Tribunal.
Flexible working: While you haven’t specified what your role entails it may be possible for you to perform your original role more flexibly, e.g. from an office in the new region or even from home. If you think this could work then you should make a written request to your employer for flexible working arrangements. Your letter should set out how you believe your original job could be performed from a different location, including how the new arrangement might affect colleagues or customers and what might be done to overcome any difficulties so as to ensure minimum disruption to the business. Your employer must seriously consider your request and any refusal must be for a specified business reason.