Many thanks for your patience. According to Reg. 18 of The Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999, an employee who takes Additional Maternity Leave (i.e. between 6-12 months off) is entitled “to return to the job in which she was employed before her absence, or, if it is not reasonably practicable for the employer to permit her to return to that job, to another job which is both suitable for her and appropriate for her to do in the circumstances.”
This means that there is no guarantee of a return to the job you performed before going on maternity leave. If the employer can show that it is not reasonably practicable to allow you to return to that job, they need to find you something that is both suitable and appropriate for you to do instead.
A common issue that arises is whether the reason for not being reasonably practicable to allow the employee to return to her old job is actually justifiable. Case law has suggested that formal reorganisations can amount to a justifiable reason, whereas a simple preference over someone providing maternity cover will not suffice. The employer needs to show that there is a genuine reason which makes it no longer practicable to allow you to return to your old job, this is not just a formality.
In terms of taking the matter further, the options available to challenge this depend on what has happened so far:
- If they have terminated your employment then this could amount to an automatically unfair dismissal and/or pregnancy and maternity discrimination
- If your employment has not terminated but you are unreasonably being denied the opportunity to return to your old job, that could amount to pregnancy and maternity discrimination and/or unlawful detriment
- If you have been given an alternative job which you find unsuitable, then you could resign and make a claim for constructive dismissal and/or sex discrimination.
Each of the above claims will be made in the employment tribunal and you can seek compensation for loss of earnings and/or injury to feelings.
As to the other specific questions you had:
1. Can a company return you on a short-term part-time contract under the terms you agreed (after negotiating to change the contract to 3 days a week) only to then change them to something condition less favourable without indicating this was their intentions.
Not really, they can’t. If you had agreed a reduced hours contract then you would expect this to be more or less on the same other general terms that you had beforehand. If they wanted to make more significant changes, such as making this into a zero hours contract they this should have been made clear at the outset to give you the opportunity to consider the option and whether it is something you wanted to agree to.
Can they return me to work on a short-term 3 month rolling contract, when before I had a long-term contract.
Again, no. The rules as stated above say that any alternative position should be suitable so if you had a permanent contract before, it would be unreasonable to claim that a short-term rolling contract for 3 months is a suitable alternative.
What would happen if I refused to sign a new zero hour contract, can they dismiss me and if so do I have any rights, if they dismiss me do I lose out on redundancy, if they dismiss me do they need to follow their disciplinary procedure or can it be considered gross misconduct and summary dismissal.
They could potentially dismiss you but it won’t be gross misconduct or a summary dismissal. It would either have to be redundancy or ‘some other substantial reason’, depending on the circumstances. You will only get redundancy if the actual reason for dismissal was redundancy.
After the contract ends if I refuse to sign zero hour contract, and they refuse to make me redundant/dismiss me but simply don’t allow me access to the office as they say 3 month contract come to an end, would that be allowed or would they need to make me redundant or no need as contract expired?
The non-renewal of the contract would still amount to a dismissal so they need to show there was a fair reason for non-renewal and also follow a fair procedure. If they simply refused to allow you to work, then that could be construed as a dismissal itself or you could be forced to resign and claim constructive dismissal.
If I refuse to sign a contract and they are not prepared to dismiss me but my employment continues under what contract would I be working under my original contract or the zero hour contract?
It would be under the last agreed contract you had in place.
I am consistently working 3 days a week, does that set a precedence that I am really working a 3 days a week contract and contract should reflect this?
For such a short period it would be unlikely. You are really looking at this option only if it was a long-term thing, we are talking years rather than months.
Hopefully this has clarified the issues for you.