Employers with staff absent on maternity leave should be aware that a failure to offer them the same rights and opportunities as their colleagues could result in claims of sex discrimination.
The legislation governing a woman’s rights whilst absent from work on maternity leave requires that the time must count as continuous service and be included where it affects her promotion. She is also entitled to be fully consulted about any changes affecting her job and should be notified of any career opportunities that become available during this time. If on returning to work after maternity leave an employee finds that she has been demoted, or her job has materially changed, she may also be able to claim constructive dismissal.
A woman in Scotland was recently awarded £20,000 in an out of court settlement after she claimed that her employer had failed to offer her the chance of promotion whilst she was absent on maternity leave and had downgraded her status on her return to work.
Melanie Given had worked for two years as an accountant for an offshore oil-services company, Offshore Hydrocarbon Mapping, in Aberdeen. She threatened to bring a claim of sex discrimination against her employer because her role when she returned to work after having a baby carried less responsibility and status than before and she was not offered the chance of applying for promotion during her absence. The company had initially appointed someone on a temporary basis to cover for Mrs Given while she was on maternity leave. However, that person was made a permanent member of staff and took over Mrs Given’s duties in a newly created and more senior post.
Because her role had been so much reduced, Mrs Given felt ‘pushed out’ and was absent from work for two months suffering from stress and anxiety.
Offshore Hydrocarbon Mapping did not admit any culpability and said that the decision to settle the claim was made purely on economic grounds.
Mrs Given’s case was supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission Scotland.
“It is important to have systems in place to ensure that the rights of women on maternity leave are not ignored,” says John Merry, Partner and Head of the Employment Law department. “Contact us for individual advice on the specific rights relating to ordinary and additional maternity leave.”