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What to Expect When You Return to Work After Maternity Leave

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a daunting experience. Even more so when you’ve been off for a long period of time.

Mothers often say they feel particularly vulnerable when they return to the workplace after having a baby, but there are laws to protect you.

I advise many women who have experienced discrimination after going back to work and below are some of the most common concerns.

My company has no part time staff. Are they obliged to consider my request for flexible working or can they refuse point blank?

If you have worked for your employer continuously for 26 weeks, you have the right to ask to work flexibly – you are likely to qualify to ask as maternity leave counts as continuous service.

You might want to reduce hours, change which hours you work or work the same number of hours but over fewer days. You may also want to work from home or as a job share, or go part-time. Your employer must agree to flexible working where it can accommodate the request, but can turn it down on business grounds defined in flexible working regulations (there are 8 grounds including inability to meet client demand and detrimental impact on performance ). However, it must make sure it does not discriminate and cannot simply refuse a request without fair process or reasons.

I’m returning to work after being off on maternity leave, can I expect to go back into the same job?

At the end of six months’ maternity leave you have the right to return to your job on the same terms and conditions as before you left, if the job still exists and depending on how your employment contract defines ‘the job’.

If you take more than six months’ maternity leave, you still have a right to return to your old job – however- if it is not reasonably practicable for you to do so, you can be offered a similar job where terms and conditions must be as good.

This means someone covering in your old job cannot be given the role permanently because the employer thinks they are better at it than you.

An employee who wants to end her leave and return to work early, or who wants to end her leave later than she originally planned, must give the employer at least eight weeks’ notice.

If your role has significantly changed, you have been demoted or you’ve had your roles and responsibilities taken away, there may be steps you can take to protect your position, such as lodging a formal grievance. It is worth noting, however, that if you consider your situation is serious enough to merit taking legal action, there are strict time limits and you only have three months less one day from the date the last act of discrimination took place to start the process of potentially bringing a claim.

If my colleagues have training while I’m away on maternity leave that would benefit me, is my employer obliged to offer the same training to me?

Withholding training from an employee because of her pregnancy and maternity leave is likely to be discriminatory.

Indeed, it would be unlawful for a woman to miss out on training because she becomes pregnant, is about to take maternity leave or is on maternity leave or is absent from work because of illness related to her pregnancy or maternity.

Both you and your employer need to be reasonable about when training takes place, and you can discuss the best timing for training. Your employer should be sensitive about when you, if absent from work because of your pregnancy or maternity, starts, undertakes or completes any training. They should be mindful of your needs in these circumstances to avoid any potential discrimination.

In turn, you should be mindful of the most effective time to start or undertake training. For example, starting training spanning various times over a year one month before going on maternity leave is unlikely to be practical. It should also be understood that an employer would be able to justify withholding training from you while you’re pregnant or on maternity leave because there was a genuine and particular health and safety risk.

However, a boss should offer the training as soon as possible once there is no longer a risk or the employee returns to work. Further, you and your employer may agree to use keeping-in-touch days during maternity leave for training.

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