Sadly, we see many women who have been made redundant or dismissed while on maternity leave.
This can happen for a number of reasons.
Sometimes an employer will decide that the role is redundant if they find the business is able to cope without the woman who has left for maternity leave. This is precisely the reason there is special protection for women against being made redundant on maternity leave.
Another reason is that many businesses are often focused on short-term results. When this is the case, bosses may see the opportunity to make a woman on maternity leave redundant so as to minimise the impact their time on leave will have on the budget. In other cases, an employer may decide the person who is providing maternity cover performs better in the role than the woman on maternity leave ever did and they want to keep that individual on and let the woman on maternity leave go.
It is unlawful for someone to be made redundant for taking maternity leave. If this happens you have a case for maternity discrimination. Your role can be made redundant while you are on maternity leave, but your employer will have to justify their decision to make your role redundant and show that the decision is not maternity discrimination. In addition, an employer has a duty to offer a woman on maternity leave any suitable alternative vacancy in the business before it is offered to other potentially redundant employees. The idea behind this is to try to give women on maternity leave some special protection from redundancy. The law recognises an employer may otherwise find it easier to dismiss a person who has been away from the workplace for some months, rather than a member of staff who is present.
What You Can Do if Made Redundant While on Maternity Leave
If you have been made redundant while on maternity leave, you have the right to be offered another suitable position across the business if there is one. You can remind your employer that they are obliged to carry out an extensive search for any appropriate jobs across the business. Plus, if the role is suitable for your skillset, you should be offered the position without having to have an interview.
You should appeal against the decision to make you redundant within the time-frame required by your employer, stating your grounds. You may wish to raise a complaint of discrimination at this stage which could be dealt with as part of the appeal or grievance process.
If you are unable to resolve things with your employer then you may consider taking legal action. It will be important to take some specialist legal advice before doing so. Most claims for discrimination need to be taken within three months less one day of the date of the act of discrimination so it is important to act quickly and take some legal advice.
Slater and Gordon Employment Lawyers specialise in maternity and paternity-related employment cases, including when female workers are made redundant on maternity leave.
For further reading see our blog Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination at Work is a Common Problem.