I have been in the unfortunate position of losing my job whilst on maternity leave, not once, but twice. The difficult thing about this is that the second time it happens, you start to wonder if it’s because you are not good enough. The first time, I took my employer to tribunal, and won, they were found to have been in breach of Irish law and were forced to pay out a bit more than a year’s salary. They played really nastily all the way; refusing to negotiate or settle, introducing heresay as evidence, and even trying to interfere with my career later on.
The second time was eight years later in the UK. I was employed as a university lecturer on a zero hours contract. I had worked there for three years, and every year I taught the same courses. In the lead up to my maternity leave I had put a lot of extra time and effort into developing new courses that I only had the opportunity to teach once. While I was on maternity leave my two closest colleagues (teaching on the same programme) and two immediate line managers all took redundancy, this meant that new recruits were brought in and their work (and mine) was divvied up. When I contacted the university after a year asking about returning the following September I was told that a permanent employee had taken over my courses and that there was no work for me. I contacted the union and the faculty director. The faculty director was quick to remind me that on a zero hours contract I was not guaranteed any work, the union felt that there was possibly room for manoeuvre but that it would be a battle. With three young children and having already been through that battle one before I knew how gruelling, expensive, threatening, and demoralising it could be. My confidence was shaken that a second employer had deemed me so disposable and I decided to see if I could find work elsewhere. I was lucky to secure a better permanent position in a better university and have not really looked back. I do occasionally think of writing to the vice chancellor and letting them know how unpleasant and bordering on illegal the whole experience was was, I may yet.