During maternity leave | Dismissal, redundancy, constructive dismissal and complaints procedures

You can be dismissed if there is a fair reason for the dismissal and your employer follows a fair procedure. You must not be dismissed if the reason is because of your pregnancy or maternity leave. The pregnancy or maternity leave does not have to be the only reason for the dismissal - it will be pregnancy or maternity discrimination if it is a substantial or effective reason. For example, if you are absences which include pregnancy related absences and sickness absence unrelated to your pregnancy this would still be pregnancy discrimination.

If you think you may be dismissed, (for example, because your employer’s attitude to you has changed and they are excluding/ignoring you, or have said that your job is being reviewed), it is advisable to discuss your concerns with your manager to find out more about your employer’s thinking, express your concerns and seek reassurance that you will not be dismissed.

Yes, generally you should appeal against the decision setting out why you believe the dismissal was due to your pregnancy or because of your maternity leave. 

To prove discrimination, you need to be able to show that your pregnancy, pregnancy related sickness/absence or maternity leave was a significant, important or effective cause of your dismissal. A tribunal should take account of all the circumstances relating to your pregnancy and maternity leave, for example how you were treated after you said you were pregnant.

Yes, your employer must write to you setting out the reasons for your dismissal. If they do not do so, you should write and ask for reasons.

A redundancy situation is where there is either a closure of the business (or particular workplace) or a reduced need for employees to do work of a particular kind. This might cover:

  • Where there is no need for the particular job because, for example, of a reorganisation.
  • A need for job cuts because of your employer’s financial situation.
  • A reduction in work or clients, so there is less work to do.
  • A reorganisation due to having too many employees doing the same work. 

Yes, provided that:

  • There is a genuine redundancy situation.
  • You are properly consulted; you must not be left out of the consultation process because you are  on maternity leave.
  • You are not chosen for redundancy because you are  on maternity leave.
  • The selection criteria and how they are assessed do not disadvantage you because of your pregnancy or maternity leave.
  • Your employer has properly considered whether there is a suitable alternative job for you, even if you are not able to take the job until the end of your leave.

Yes. You should be consulted in the same way as all other employees. Failure to do so would be maternity discrimination.

Yes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and ACAS have produced guidance for employers and employees on managing redundancies for pregnant employees and those on maternity leave. There is also a guide setting out your entitlement to redundancy pay, notice, time off to find a new job. 

If you can show that there is not a genuine redundancy situation and you are being made redundant because of your pregnancy or pregnancy related sickness, this would be unlawful pregnancy discrimination. There is also another guide setting out your entitlement to redundancy pay, notice, time off to find a new job.  

It is advisable to ask the reason why you may be made redundant, to see if you can put forward reasons why you should not be made redundant. You could ask questions about: 

  • Why there is a redundancy situation.
  • Whether other employees are at risk; if there have been a lot of redundancies your employer is more likely to be able to show that there is a genuine redundancy situation.
  • If you are the only employee made redundant, why you were selected and what consideration was given to putting other employees at risk.
  • When your employer first considered there was a redundancy situation.
  • Who was in the selection pool.
  • What were the selection criteria used and how were they measured.
  • What was your score, how was it assessed and how did it compare to others put at risk.

Whether any employees (at risk of redundancy) have been offered alternative jobs, with details of the jobs. If any of the jobs would have been suitable for you, ask if you were considered and, if not, why not.

Yes, your employer must consult you at the same time as other employees if you are on maternity leave. You could be consulted by a telephone call or your manager or someone from your Human Resources department may visit you at home. You must be given the same information as other employees.

Your employer should consult you about:

  • Reasons for redundancy and the posts affected.
  • Considering alternatives to redundancy, such as voluntary redundancies, or reduced working hours.
  • The selection criteria for those employees at risk of redundancy.
  • How the employee’s redundancy selection assessment was carried out.
  • Any suitable alternative work

If you are not told about a suitable alternative job because you are on maternity leave, this is likely to be maternity discrimination.

If you are able to do so, you could ask to work a Keeping In Touch day in order to attend the meeting. If you do not want to attend, you should ask your employer to agree an alternative way of consulting you, for example:

  • by telephone
  • by meeting you separately
  • by sending you all relevant documents and meeting notes

Failure to make alternative arrangements to consult you during your maternity leave, which disadvantages you, may be maternity discrimination.

Your employer should decide which employees are doing similar work and put in the redundancy pool. These employees should be considered for redundancy. Your employer must then decide what selection criteria to follow to decide which employees to make redundant.

The criteria must be objective and measurable. Typical criteria include:

  • individual skills, qualifications
  • performance or aptitude for work,
  • attendance and absence record
  • disciplinary record, and
  • customer feedback.

Your employer should not take into account any criteria that would disadvantage you because of your pregnancy, pregnancy related sickness or maternity leave, for example:

  • All pregnancy related absence should be ignored.
  • If you have fewer clients or customers because of your  maternity leave.
  • If your performance is marked down because of pregnancy related sickness.

You must not be disadvantaged because of your maternity leave. If you could not meet your targets because of maternity leave this is likely to be maternity discrimination

Yes. It is advisable to explain to your employer why the selection criteria disadvantages you because of your pregnancy, pregnancy related sickness or maternity leave, for example, because they are based on your performance when you had pregnancy related sickness. 

No. If the reason for not offering you a suitable alternative job is because you cannot start until the end of your maternity leave, this would be maternity discrimination.

Yes. If you are made redundant during your maternity leave your employer is legally required to offer you a suitable alternative vacancy if one is available. If others are made redundant, you get preference over them. 

For example, if you are not offered a suitable alternative job and the reason for this is because you cannot start until the end of your maternity leave, this would be maternity discrimination.

No, you should not have to apply for jobs. Your employer should identify a suitable alternative post and offer it to you first, before other staff in the redundancy pool.

Yes. If you are made redundant before your maternity leave you do not have an automatic entitlement to be offered suitable alternative work in preference to other employees (see dismissals and redundancies). You must be considered for alternative work like other employees.  

The alternative job must be suitable and appropriate for you in the circumstances. This means it must be no worse than your previous job in relation to location, terms, conditions and status.

If you are offered a job at a different location and this means additional childcare and travelling problems, it may not be classed as a suitable job for you. This means you could reject the job and still be entitled to a redundancy payment.

If you are offered a suitable alternative job and decide not to take it, and you are made redundant, your employer can refuse to pay you redundancy pay.  

If you are offered a job at a different location and this means additional childcare and travelling problems, it may not be classed as a suitable job for you. This means you could reject the job and still be entitled to a redundancy payment.

If you have been discriminated against, for example if your job responsibilities have been given to another employee because of your maternity leave, you could resign and claim constructive dismissal. But, you need to be sure that you want to leave and can afford to do so.

Constructive dismissal is difficult to prove so seek advice, for example, from your union or from a solicitor. You cannot rely on getting compensation through bringing an employment tribunal claim as you cannot be sure you will win.

You should only resign when you are certain that you cannot continue working for your employer, not because you have been advised to do so or are relying on winning a tribunal claim. 

You may want to take into account:

  • Whether your health is being badly affected by what is happening at work.
  • Your finances: can you afford to resign?
  • How soon you will be able to get another job: it is often easier to get a job when you are working.
  • The strength of any claim you have. It is best to get professional advice on this.

You should write to your employer to explain why you are resigning. You should include the main reasons why you decided to resign and the last incident if there was one. It may be advisable to take advice about the exact wording but the letter should be written by you.

Generally, you should resign soon after the bad treatment, as if you carry on working your employer may argue that you accepted their behaviour, which would weaken any claim you might have at an employment tribunal. In the meantime you should write to your employer to make it clear that you object to the discriminatory treatment so it cannot be said that you accepted it.

It will depend on the circumstances. If you cannot afford to resign, you may have no choice but to wait until you have another job. If you take a claim of constructive dismissal you can argue that you would have resigned earlier but could not do so for financial reasons. In the meantime you should write to your employer to make it clear that you object to the discriminatory treatment so it cannot be said that you accepted it. 

Yes, usually it is best to set out your concerns in writing before resigning and wait for your employer to respond. If you do bring a tribunal claim, compensation may be reduced if you have not brought a grievance before bringing the claim.

To prove that you have been constructively dismissed you need to show that:

  •  Your employer behaved so badly (for example discriminating against you), that all trust and confidence has broken down between you.
  • You resigned because of your employer’s behaviour, not for a reason which is unconnected to their behaviour.
  • You did not wait too long before you resigned as if you do, it may be assumed that you accepted the treatment by continuing to work as normal.  

The law is not clear on your entitlement to notice pay. In this instance we suggest taking legal advice.   

You can ask questions about the way you have been treated under an informal ACAS procedure, though the employer is not legally obliged to respond. There is an ACAS Code which sets out the procedure for asking such questions and how an employer should respond. ACAS recommend you should follow these steps:

  1. Provide your details and details of your employer and any manager  who might have discriminated against you.
  2. State the reason for the treatment, for example because you were pregnant, off work with pregnancy related sickness or were on maternity leave.
  3. Describe briefly the facts which you say amounted to discrimination including the date and individuals involved.
  4. Say whether it was unfavourable treatment, that is pregnancy discrimination or maternity discrimination, or indirect sex discrimination.
  5. Say why you think the treatment was discrimination, for example you were dismissed only a week after  you went on maternity leave.
  6. Ask questions about why you were treated as you were, for example, why you were not appointed, promoted, offered training, given a pay rise or why you were dismissed.

Your employer is not legally obliged to respond, but if you bring a claim, a tribunal may look at whether your employer has answered your questions, how they have answered them, and will take a failure to reply into account when making their decision on your discrimination claim.  

It is advisable to try to resolve the situation informally if possible. If this does not succeed, raise your concerns more formally in writing. Below are some of the options:

  • Talk to your manager or human resources department, and explain your concerns.
  • Speak to your union, if there is one, and ask them to raise your concerns with your employer.
  • Send an email, or write to your manager explaining your concerns and setting out what you would like to happen.
  • Refer your employer to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, ACAS or Maternity Action website so they can check out their legal obligations to you.
  • Raise a formal grievance, following your employer's grievance procedure.
  • Seek free advice from  EASS, Maternity Action, Working Families, or a CAB.
  • Contact ACAS about early conciliation.
  • Ask a lawyer to write to your employer as a last resort.

Yes, see https://www.gov.uk/solve-workplace-dispute/overview. This gives brief details about grievances, disciplinary action, appeals, mediation and conciliation.   

Yes, it is advisable to have a meeting to talk about your concerns unless you cannot because you are ill or your baby is ill. Think of another way of having a discussion, for example over the telephone.

Yes, you should takes notes of all the phone calls, meetings and discussions you have about your grievance. You should also be aware that you can take a union representative with you, and may be allowed to take a work colleague or family member into meetings, if your employer agrees.

See ACAS for right to be accompanied at a grievance meeting.

If you do go to a meeting on your own, make notes of what was said either during the meeting or immediately afterwards. If something has been agreed, write an email to your employer confirming what was discussed. Then you will both have a record. 

You should raise a formal grievance when you have not been able to settle things informally and you do not think that your employer will take your concerns seriously unless you follow the grievance procedure.

It is advisable to follow your employer’s grievance procedure before lodging a Tribunal claim. If you are successful at the tribunal and you are awarded compensation, the amount you receive may be reduced if the tribunal decides that it was unreasonable for you not to take a grievance.

Your employer should follow the ACAS Code and guidance. 

It would be unlawful victimisation to dismiss you for complaining about discrimination. However, you need to consider/ that employers may react badly to a complaint against them, so making a complaint may lead to deterioration in the working relationship.

It is important to work out what you want and this will influence what you do next. Depending on your circumstances you may want:

  • To remain in the same job but perhaps on a different working arrangement, such as varying or reducing your hours, or working for a different manager (if it is the manager who is causing problems).
  • To move to a different job in the same organisation,  subject to agreeing terms and conditions, such as pay, work, and/ or a sum of compensation.
  • To remain employed for an agreed period and look for another job.  It is generally easier to find a job whilst you already are in work than out of work.
  • To negotiate an exit package, while still employed. Consider how long it will take you to get another job, your loss of earnings, pension and benefits.
  • To resign, arguing that you were entitled to do so because of how you were treated, for example if you were harassed. This would be constructive dismissal. You should take legal advice first as it is not easy to prove.   

There are a number of steps you need to follow to take claim to a tribunal. You can learn more about them by visiting www.equalityhumanrights.com

Last updated: 14 Nov 2016