Returning to work after maternity leave

From staying in touch with work to negotiating flexible hours when you return, Joanna Robson, founder of Babylaw Solicitors and an expert in maternity-related employment law, makes sense of your maternity rights

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My employer wants me to come back in for a few days before I return properly. Do I have to?
You are entitled to attend work for a maximum of 10 days during your 52 week maternity leave in order to ‘keep in touch’ with your workplace and any of its developments. This has recently been introduced to make the transition back to work following a 52-week absence much easier.  You are entitled to be paid for these 10 ‘keeping in touch’ days at your usual remuneration rate, without sacrificing your continuing entitlement to SMP. These days are useful if you need to go into the office for meetings, training or just to keep up to date with what is going on at work. You are not obliged to return to work for these 10 days during your maternity leave – your employer cannot force you to attend the workplace if you choose not to.

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Can I apply for a promotion while I’m on maternity leave?
If a promotion came up at work which was suitable to your skills and career progression, your employer should contact you about it so that you can apply for it whilst you are on maternity leave. You have a right to be treated no differently in comparison to your colleagues who attend the workplace. If you can establish that you were either not given the opportunity to apply for a promotion or were not given a promotion because of your maternity leave status, then this may constitute an act of sex discrimination. 

Can I be made redundant while I’m on maternity leave?
Women on maternity leave are regarded as having ‘protected status’ over imminent redundancies in the workplace. This means that your employer must try everything to either save your job or find you suitable alternative employment. If your employer fails to adopt such practice, you may have grounds to complain.  However, the area of redundancies during pregnancy and maternity leave is extremely complex and is dealt with on a case by case basis.

Can my employer give my job to someone else permanently while I’m on maternity leave?
The current legislation states that you are entitled to return to your job at the end of your maternity leave, which you were carrying out immediately prior to your maternity leave. Your employer is under a legal obligation to keep your job open for the entire 52 week period – the maximum entitlement to maternity leave. It is not acceptable or lawful for your job to be taken over by a replacement permanent employee, therefore not giving you the opportunity to return to your job.

Can I ask to come back part-time when I return?
Provided you have 26 weeks’ continuous service with your employer at the time of your flexible working request, you are entitled to make an application. You must make your request in writing to your employer and give them at least 28 days in which to respond. Your employer may either give their decision in writing or they may invite you to a meeting to discuss your request. Your employer may refuse your request to return to work on a flexible working basis but they must be able to demonstrate that there are objective business reasons for their refusal. If the request is refused, you should be given the opportunity to appeal against the decision.  You may have grounds to complain if your employer has unreasonably refused your request or ‘singled you out’ from others in the workplace.

Read Joanna Robson’s advice on maternity leave and your rights at work during pregnancy plus find out more about pregnancy, work and childcare in ThinkBaby’s dedicated section.

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