Being made redundant can be a devastating experience for most people, no matter what the situation. But if the news comes while on maternity leave, it can be even more distressing. This has become an increasingly common situation for working mums during the recession and is a subject I get asked about a lot.
So what are your rights if you are made redundant during your maternity leave?
Firstly, employers must treat women on maternity leave in exactly the same way as all other employees, in accordance with legal redundancy procedures; they must be warned that they are at risk of redundancy and invited to attend the consultation meetings.
Women on maternity leave have special employment rights
However, women on maternity have certain special rights over other colleagues in that they must have first refusal of any suitable, alternative employment. What makes this rule unusual is that they will have the right to the job, even if other colleagues are better qualified for the role â€“ and even if they wouldn’t have been awarded the position if they had not been on maternity leave. To qualify for this right, the alternative employment must be suitable, appropriate and the new terms and conditions cannot be substantially less favourable than under the previous contract. If a suitable alternative vacancy arises, and anyone made redundant on maternity leave is not offered the position, then the redundancy dismissal will automatically be deemed unfair.
If there are no suitable, alternative positions available, then the woman will receive her notice pay, redundancy pay and accrued, but untaken, holidays. It’s important to remember that holidays continue to accrue during maternity leave.
Have you been unfairly dismissed?
If you believe you have been selected for redundancy because you are on maternity leave, you may have been dismissed unfairly and you may also be able to claim for sex discrimination. In this circumstance you will need to seek professional legal advice.
By Sarah Calderwood, employment law specialist at law firm Slater Heelis