"Many employers believe staff on maternity leave cannot be considered when it comes to job losses, but in fact, although women on maternity leave have the right to be offered suitable alternative work ahead of other staff selected for redundancy, they are not exempt from the process.”
John said many companies were facing tough decisions in difficult economic times, and redundancies were occurring in all kinds of industries. “If one of your employees has just gone off on maternity leave, which means she could be away for up to 12 months without making any contribution to your business – wouldn’t she be an ideal candidate for redundancy? It’s not the easy option that it may initially seem, but it’s not impossible.
“Women on maternity leave do have a special level of protection, so before taking the redundancy route, you must assess whether there is any ‘suitable alternative work’ available elsewhere in your company,” said John.
“It will need to be something similar to her current role so offering night shift work to a daytime employee would not be appropriate. If such work does exist, she takes priority over any other employees selected for redundancy, which in reality means she has an automatic right to the job. She’s then entitled to a four-week trial period to see if it suits her – at the end of this period, she can refuse the job and then be made redundant.”
But John said if there was no alternative work, employers should continue with the redundancy process – provided they go through the correct procedure, and have good grounds for selecting the employee, she can be made redundant. “As long as you’ve followed the process to the letter, the fact that she’s on maternity leave makes no difference. Keep notes of your reasons for selecting her, but make sure you don’t refer to her maternity leave as this will be considered discriminatory.”