Your rights during workplace restructures

I have been with the company for the last six years. I went on maternity leave last April and returned in February. Whilst I was gone my team has restructured and their responsibilities/goals have changed – one of the changes to my old role is a requirement to travel extensively for weeks at a time. My line manager discussed the team changes with me a week before my return, where he made these requirements clear and disqualified me from coming back to my old role unless I agreed to the intensive travel expectations. He then offered me a role (at the same grading and pay) in the team that is substantially different from what I did before, but I would have 2 direct reports and a blank canvas to shape the new role. On my return he sent out a welcome back email to all senior management, telling them of my new role and a transfer to a new office which is further from my home and which I did not agree to. Two days after being back he sent me and HR a detailed job description for input. I responded by saying that I am not comfortable in agreeing the role as it stands since it has changed since I was originally consulted and would like to have a meeting with him and HR to discuss. When I asked HR about it, they said that an “equivalent”/”similar” role only refers to grading (ie management level) and pay – not to actual job description, career development prospects and not to location (if I am asked to move offices that are within a 50-mile radius). My line manager has also been making remarks in front of colleagues to pressurise me into taking the role. I feel bullied and victimised and very worried about my career prospects within the company. What can I do if no other role is available to me? What does “equivalent”/”similar” role mean?

The rights of a returning mother will depend on whether she returns after taking ordinary maternity leave or additional maternity leave.

Regulation 18(2) of the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 states:

“An employee who takes additional maternity leave, or parental leave for a period of more than four weeks, is entitled to return from leave to the job in which she was employed before her absence, or, if it is not reasonably practicable for the employer to permit her to return to that job, to another job which is both suitable for her and appropriate for her to do in the circumstances.”

From the dates you have provided, you appear to have returned to work after also taking a period of additional maternity leave. If this is correct, your entitlement is to return to the same job unless your employer can demonstrate that it is no longer reasonably practicable for you to return to the same job. This is not a box ticking exercise or automatically to be presumed. Your employer should be able to explain to you why you cannot return to your role. For instance, your employer should be able to explain to you why your role now requires extensive travel when this does not appear (from what you have said) to have previously been required. This discussion should have taken place with you before the announcement. As a consequence, your employer may already be in breach of Regulation 18(2).

Notwithstanding this, if your employer is actually able to demonstrate that it is not practicable for you to return to the same job, your employer can then consider a suitable alternative job. This means the role should be suitable for you and appropriate for your circumstances. The new role should be on no less favourable terms than would have been the case but for your absence. How are your colleagues undertaking your previous role being treated?

Based on what you have said there may be an argument that the new role does not meet this requirement. However, you should obtain a copy of the job description approved by HR and a copy of any structure chart showing where the role slots into the organisation, including reporting lines. You should use any meeting with HR to obtain this written clarification, as well as clarification of why, in the first instance, it was not reasonably practicable for you to return to your role and whether your employer will agree any variations to the role or the new role proposed to accommodate your requirements. You should also keep a diary note of your manager’s remarks.

In addition, if you have particular concerns about meeting with HR consider asking your employer whether you can be accompanied by a colleague for support.

Finally, you should be aware, however, that if you do not accept the role, your employer may decide to dismiss you. If this happens and your employer has breached Regulation 18(2), you may have a claim for pregnancy/maternity/sex discrimination and automatic unfair dismissal. In addition, this may also be a breach of your contract. If this does occur you should immediately seek further advice about how best to proceed.

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