Do you have any employees on Maternity leave?

An employee was on maternity leave when a redundancy process started at her workplace. An important email was sent to her work email address, requesting her to fill in a redeployment document and return it to HR as soon as possible.

As she was not accessing her work email address, she did not see the email or complete the document for several days.

From this, a claim of discrimination was brought by the employee on maternity leave who was at risk of being made redundant in the case of South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust vs Mr C Jackson and others.

The claimant argued that the delay in sending her the document was ‘unfavorable treatment’ related to her maternity. The employment tribunal agreed and awarded her £5,000 in compensation.

What can you do to prevent a situation like this?

It can be difficult to determine when and how to contact an employee on maternity leave. Too much contact could leave your employee feeling harassed, too little and the employee could feel left out and excluded.

We have set out our top tips for keeping in contact with employees in these circumstances:

  • Remember that legislation states that an employer may make ‘reasonable contact’ during maternity leave.
  • You should agree in advance with the employee how you will keep in touch with them (i.e. telephone/email/post) and how frequently you will do so. The aim is to clarify what type and level of contact would be reasonable.
  • Confirm this in writing and ask the employee to update you should their contact details change whilst they are off.
  • As a minimum, keep employees informed of any significant changes that may affect their position at work. This includes anything in relation to a redundancy exercise.
  • Ensure you offer the same opportunities for training, career development and promotion that other members of staff receive. For example; continue to send copies of the company newsletter, details of the next event and updates on job vacancies.
  • Inform employees on maternity leave of their right to take up to 10 ‘keeping-in–touch’ (KIT) days, whilst noting that an employer cannot require an employee to work a KIT day during maternity leave and neither does an employee have the right to work KIT days without her employer's agreement.
  • Remember that in a redundancy situation, an employee on maternity leave is entitled to be offered any suitable alternative job that is available. They will have priority for alternative employment.