Told to reduce hours after maternity leave: as the expert

Before I went on maternity leave the rotas for my job as a community support worker were not fixed days. We all had to be flexible. I have a 16-hour contract. I am due to start back at work mid June. In the time I have been away, staff have settled into fixed days rotas and we have lost a service user. Due to the loss of a service user we now don’t have enough hours for all the staff. We have been asked collectively to shave off 6 hours. If this cannot be done then the management will decide what will happen. My supervisor phoned me today saying there are only 11 hours for me to take and that everyone is happy with their fixed days now and she can’t see anyone giving any hours up as it all works so well. I said I was willing to drop to 14 hours as my contribution to the six hours that need to go, but she just said everyone has fixed days now and them cutting hours down won’t work because it will mess up shifts. She then said again that there are only 11 hours for me. Where do I stand with this? I feel like I am being pushed into a corner to reduce my hours when no one else has to. I feel like she is saying I am upsetting everything by returning to work and that my only option is the 11 hours or nothing and they have to be on the days she said (fixed days) At the meeting held by management before I received this phone call I was told redundancy was not an option for me because I am contracted to 16 hours and they need to cut only six hours so the redundancy would be for six hours. I am so upset and confused about what my rights are. I have gone into additional maternity leave, but decided to return before the full 52 weeks. Any advice would be helpful.

An employer is not permitted to change your hours of work unless they have your agreement to do so. If you refuse to agree to the reduction in hours, and your employer still wants you to reduce your hours, then they have two choices:

1.    Your employer may decide to force the change on you i.e. insist that you reduce your hours. This would be a breach of contract and you would be entitled to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.

2.    Your employer may decide to dismiss you and offer you re-engagement on the new reduced hours. Again you would be able to claim unfair dismissal especially as your hours are being reduced more than anyone else. At times, an employer can justify this route by following a consultation procedure, having sound business reasons for the change in hours and acting in a fair and reasonable manner.

Reducing hours also amounts to a redundancy situation. If your employer cannot agree the reduced hours then everyone in the same role as you should be put at risk of redundancy and offered alternative employment on the new hours. As you are on maternity leave you have the right to be offered alternative employment over and above everyone else. If the new hours do not suit you, then you should be permitted to take redundancy (and receive your notice and statutory redundancy pay) as arguably the reduced hours do not amount to ‘suitable alternative employment’.

In addition the fact that your employer is trying to reduce your hours more than anyone else’s amounts to sex discrimination. You are being treated differently because you have been on maternity leave. In addition to any claim for unfair dismissal you therefore also potentially have a claim for sex discrimination. Remember that the time limit to bring a sex discrimination claim is three months from the last act of discrimination.

You should raise a written grievance about the way you are being treated and refer to the fact that you feel discriminated against. Your employer may then act more fairly in agreeing the hours with you or may offer you a settlement agreement to leave the business i.e. offer you a sum of money to compensate you for any claims you may have. If you would like to discuss this further then please call Sarah Calderwood on 0161 969 3131.





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