Travel element of job significantly increased on return from maternity leave

My wife is due to return to work as a Business Development Manager soon after a year’s maternity leave from her previously contracted three days a week to the same hours. However, the employer has pre-emptively sent through a list of away from home events that she is now asked to set up and attend. This was a very minor part of her previous role, but now looks like it could be significantly more days a year with the requirement now moving outside her contracted hours. Her employer says that on her contract it states that travel is “required from time to time” and that this clause covers the greatly enhanced events attendance.  My wife has indicated she would like to return to the same/similar role as before, but this has not been allowed. Instead she has been offered an alternative job on substantially less pay. The change in role to us looks like a way for the company to force her to leave as the wage will now not cover childcare costs.

Returning to work after additional maternity leave, the employee is entitled to return to her old job if it is reasonably practicable for her to do so. She is also entitled to return on terms and conditions not less favourable than she would have had, had she not been absent.

Here, it appears that her old job of Business Development Manager still exists (she has been offered the job back), but the employer is trying to expand the ‘events’ side of her role.

This is quite a complex matter as it will depend largely on the ‘implied’ terms between the employer and employee regarding the exact nature of the employee’s role. However, I think the employee does have good grounds to argue that the ‘events’ side of her role (and therefore, the travel element) was previously quite minimal and that by increasing it to this extent the employer is, contrary to the legislation, not allowing her to return to work on terms and conditions not less favourable than she would have had, had she not been absent. Of course, the employer will argue (as they appear to have done so already) that events and travel always formed part of her role and that, therefore, there is no change to her terms and conditions.

My advice would be for the employee to set out her concerns formally in writing, stating that;

1. She is entitled to return on terms and conditions not less favourable;
2. The events/travel part of her role was previously minimal (providing figures/evidence where possible);
3. By increasing the events/travel requirement the employer are seeking to unilaterally change her contract (without her consent) and that the terms and conditions are less favourable to her, contrary to the legislation;
4. That she feels she is being discriminated against because of her pregnancy and maternity.

*Steven Conway answered this question.

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