Imagine your baby is 6 months old and you are living in a haze of baby sick, nappies and sleep deprivation.
You can’t imagine how you ever went to work previously, you can hardly get dressed before 11am, but you’re glad of the security of knowing that you can return to work when you are ready.
Then your boss calls you out of the blue and asks if you can come in for a meeting to “catch up”. In the meeting, he then drops the bombshell that you are being made redundant: your maternity leave cover has been doing a really good job; the business has changed since you have been on maternity leave and there just isn’t a role for you to come back to.
This scenario will be very familiar to the thousands of women who are made redundant or are otherwise forced out of their jobs each year during their maternity leave.
Many women feel a loss of confidence when on maternity leave and the security of having a good job to go back to can feel very important at such an emotionally turbulent time. To then find that you are losing your job during what should be a very special time with your baby can be devastating.
As a mother myself, I can identify with how hard it can be to get through a day with little sleep and the loss of confidence you experience being out of the workplace. Going back to work after maternity leave is a challenge even for the most self-assured. Employers should be making this process easier for women, not putting barriers in their way or pushing them out of their jobs altogether.
You do have certain legal protections which include the following:
1. Employees and agency workers are entitled to paid time off during working hours to attend ante-natal appointments.
2. Employers must carry out certain health and safety risk assessments.
3. It is unlawful to treat a woman unfavourably because of her pregnancy or maternity leave. This protection runs from the beginning of pregnancy until she returns from maternity leave. However, it is possible to make a complaint after the end of the maternity leave period if it concerns treatment which arose because of the maternity leave.
Examples of unfavourable treatment are: excluding a pregnant woman from business trips; failing to consult a woman on maternity leave about changes to her work or about possible redundancy; assuming that a woman’s work will become less important to her after childbirth and giving her less responsible/interesting work as a result and depriving a woman of her right to an annual assessment of her performance because she was on maternity leave.
4. A woman on maternity leave has special protection if her role is made redundant whilst she is on maternity leave. She must be offered a suitable alternative vacancy, without a competitive interview, in preference to other employees. If the employer fails to do this then the woman’s dismissal may
be automatically unfair. It may also be maternity discrimination. An employer must also take care to ensure that the redundancy selection criteria themselves are not discriminatory.
5. A woman has the right to return to the same job at the end of ordinary maternity leave (the first 26 weeks). If she returns after the first 26 weeks (after additional maternity leave) she has the right to return to the same job, or if not reasonable practicable to do so, to return to a suitable job on terms and
conditions which are no less favourable.
6. Employees with 26 weeks continuous service have the right to ask for flexible working, for example working part-time or flexible hours. The employer has a duty to seriously consider the request but may refuse it if it has good business reasons for doing so. If your employer refuses your request without good reason you may have grounds to complain about a breach of the flexible working regulations and/or indirect sex discrimination.
Be aware that you need to take action quickly if you think you are being treated unlawfully. Any claim must be brought within 3 months (i.e. 3 months less one day) from the date of the treatment complained of, subject to the rules on ACAS Early Conciliation. The ACAS Early Conciliation process must be started before the expiry of the time limit for the claim. ACAS Early Conciliation will have the effect of extending the time limit.
How can I help?
If you feel that you are being badly treated because you are pregnant or on maternity leave, it can be an incredibly difficult time. It can be hard enough to cope with looking after your baby. Having to deal with a dispute at work as well may make you feel further isolated and vulnerable. I can help you by firstly making sure that you are aware of your legal rights and then what your options are to try and resolve the issues. I can then help support you through any process with your employer to find a resolution or if resolution can’t be reached, with a legal claim.
I am an expert in this area of employment law and have helped many women who have experienced similar. I am sensitive to your needs and those of your baby when working with you and will make the process as smooth for you as possible. You don’t have to come in for a meeting and we can work over phone and email.