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We have an employee in a limited company who is on maternity leave. Her contract finishes in one month, but she has still seven months of her maternity leave to go. If she doesn’t wish to renew her contract what effect does this have on the person hired specifically to cover the period of maternity leave? Does this mean the contract needs to be altered?
I would suggest that you initially contact the employee on maternity leave to establish her intentions. If she intends to renew the contract and return to work then the person hired to cover her maternity leave should remain employed until she returns to work to take up her position.
If the employee on leave decides not to renew her contract then my advice would really depend on the contract given to the person hired to cover the period of maternity leave. If they were hired on a fixed-term contract, the length of the maternity leave, then this should be honoured. If they were hired as “maternity cover” and no express length of the appointment was stated then strictly speaking if the employee on maternity does not renew her contract, then the employment (which is being covered) would end.
If the person hired to cover the leave has under two years’ service then you can dismiss them (either when the employee on leave returns, or if they confirm they do not intend to renew the contract) and they would not have a claim for unfair dismissal (although you should note that no service is required to bring a claim for discrimination). However, if there is still a need for the role, then you could consider offering it to the person hired to cover the maternity leave, under a permanent contract.
You should note that if the employee on maternity leave decides not to renew her contract, her maternity leave will come to an end. However, if she is entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (“SMP”) she will continue to receive it for the remainder of the SMP period.