I was offered the chance to apply for promotion whilst on maternity leave and was interviewed. A junior colleague with only one year versus my 11 years experience got the job. During the interview I was asked if I would be returning to work full time. My response was that the promotion I applied for I believed was a full-time role. I think they didn’t give me the promotion as I am still on maternity leave. Before I fell pregnant my boss was pushing for this promotion for me and has now changed her mind. Is this discrimination? I asked for feedback after the interview and was given some. The points they raised were never concerns before. I haven’t asked why she has changed her mind yet nor has she said. I also asked at the time who had been successful and she said they were unable to tell me as they hadn’t told the successful applicant yet. I have since found out from a colleague that an e-mail has been sent out more than a month later informing of who has been promoted. There have been other promotions within the team too. I was informed there were new positions being created. Should I be informed of who has been promoted or do they not have to tell me?
You are protected by law under the Equality Act from the start of your pregnancy until the end of maternity leave. This is known as the ‘protected period’ and during this time your employer cannot treat you unfavourably. Unfavourable treatment during the ‘protected period’ could take the form of being denied the opportunity for promotion. To show unfavourable treatment, you do not have to compare your situation to someone else. All you need to show is that you were treated unfavourably and this was because of your pregnancy/maternity. A woman’s pregnancy or maternity leave only needs to materially influence the employer’s conscious or subconscious decision-making for the unfavourable treatment to be discriminatory – it does not need to be the only or main reason.
The fact you are currently on maternity leave should not put you at any disadvantage in terms of your chances for a promotion: you should be awarded the role if you are the most suitable candidate. Ultimately, the true reason for your employer’s decision would need to be established and whether they had a non-discriminatory for deciding not to offer you promotion.
The fact that during the interview your employer queried whether you would be returning to work full time could be taken as evidence that your maternity leave was part of your employer’s decision-making. Further, the fact that your employer raised performance concerns in your interview feedback that had never been raised before could lead to an inference that the performance concerns were not the real reason for you not obtaining the promotion.
You also mentioned that there have been other promotions within the team. If your employer failed to inform you of these other suitable promotion opportunities whilst you were on maternity leave, then it may be that you have been subjected to further unfavourable treatment.
A claim for discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy/maternity leave must be brought within three months of the discriminatory act, so it is important not to delay if you wish to lodge a claim against your employer and you should take legal advice as early as possible.