I am currently on maternity leave. Before maternity leave, I worked part time Monday-Thursday 8.30-5. Before I left, I verbally discussed returning to work, but dropping my hours to Monday-Wednesday 9-5. This was agreed but nothing was put in writing. I have now been asked to attend a meeting at work to discuss my hours along with another member of staff also on maternity leave. The problem appears to be that we both wish to work the same days/hours. I have already organised childcare for my son as he starts school in September in line with what was verbally agreed. What rights do I have to keep working the days I agreed before maternity leave?
I note from your question that you are currently on maternity leave. I further note that before you left you made a verbal agreement to drop your hours of work to Monday-Wednesday 9-5 but have now been invited to a meeting to discuss your working hours as another employee on maternity leave would like to work those same hours as you had agreed with your employer.
A verbal agreement to change your hours is conceivably sufficient to effect a variation to your contract of employment. I would, however, suggest that in practice it is always better to obtain written confirmation of the agreement as oral arrangements are more likely to be contested at a later date.
I would suggest that at the meeting you make your employer aware that you have acted in reliance of what was agreed as to your new contractual terms and you have already made childcare arrangements and to now go back on what has been agreed would be unfair and a breach of your Contract of Employment. You should maintain that your Contract of Employment has been varied and that it cannot be varied again without your consent. If your employer enforces a contractual change (of hours) on you without your consent, this would be a breach of your Contract of Employment. It may also entitle you to bring claims in the employment tribunal for sex discrimination and for constructive dismissal if you resigned from your employment in response to your employer’s behaviour.
If you cannot resolve the problem at the meeting then you should raise a formal grievance and I would recommend that you take further legal advice regarding your situation. Please also be mindful that any claim for constructive dismissal or discrimination has to be presented to an employment tribunal within three months of the discrimination / resignation. You would also need to go through the Acas early conciliation process before any claim can be lodged.
Should you require any further clarification on the above points then please do not hesitate to contact Tracey Guest of Slater Heelis on 0161 672 1246.
*Adam Wightman assisted in answering this question.