I went on maternity leave in 2006, using the full year permitted to take a break from a very busy agency which I had been instrumental in growing. I, and the agency, had been so busy that two people replaced the role I had – one was promoted internally and the other was there on a maternity cover contract, initially for 6 months. After the first 6 months, my boss (the owner of the private agency) telephoned me at home to ask when I was planning on coming back as the lady fulfilling the contract had no desire to endure another 6 months of extreme workloads and long hours. I said I planned to take the whole year unless there was a part-time function (2-3 days) he would like me to fill in the meantime – there wasn’t; it was all or nothing.
In the months leading up to my return to work, I sent the required letter requesting the possibility of a four-day week to allow for juggling of child care, stating that in the 3-4 months prior to maternity leave I had successfully managed my role in a four-day week (as I was using up holiday) so knew it was possible. I was verbally assured that that would be possible and no formal response to my letter was received to say otherwise.
However, the month before I was due to return the MD called, asking what I expected to be doing when I returned as there were two people (another contractor had been recruited) now doing my role, he didn’t need a third and didn’t want to get rid of either of the other two! I reminded him that the job they were doing was MY job. So, off the cuff, he said I could either return to my job on a full time basis but with the introduction of targets or I could do the four-day week I had requested but would have to be demoted with reduced pay! He suggested he call back in a day or so to find out my decision! I was stunned! We were in the process of buying a house and he had already signed mortgage papers confirming my existing role and salary and this was the basis on which we were up-sizing! After subsequent calls to several solicitors it was clear I had a case and that he was trying to short-cut the system based on his own agenda.
Two days after the initial call (with the option of targets or demotion) he called back. He apologised for how the first call had gone and followed up with ‘you and I both know your job is redundant’! I reminded him of the recently signed mortgage papers and highlighted the fact that he is obliged to offer me a role of a similar level/salary if my previous role was no longer available. He subsequently offered me a completely new and different role, on the salary I was on. I asked to see the job description and employment packages for all three options so I could review them thoroughly. He only sent the information for the ‘new job’ as it turns out specs didn’t exist for the others because he had no intention of me ever taking back my old role or fulfilling a four day week.
For me the whole situation came down to the following:
* My loyalty to the business in the 5 years I had been there counted for nothing
* The hard work I had put in to grow the business in that time for the private owner counted for nothing
* The owner disregarded all matters of ethics and legality to achieve his own agenda (it turns out it came down to salary – he didn’t want to pay another high salary as it ate into his pot)
* I had had a reasonably good working relationship with the MD and I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to be a victim of his greed, ruthlessness and unethical behaviour; essentially, because of his behaviour I didn’t feel I could go back to agency, no matter what job I was offered
* I spent the last month or two of my very precious maternity leave fighting for my rights between the agency and solicitors
* A chunk of the money I received in the final agreement had to be used to pay for my solicitor
* I knew he was in the wrong, that I could fight the case and win but the whole situation put undue stress and strain on a family who were lacking sleep and wondering when there would be two salaries again
Interestingly, a couple of years later he approached me about coming back to the agency. He apologised profusely for how he treated me, indicated he’d been given wrong advice on how to resolve the matter and was desperate for me to fulfil a particular role to reinvigorate business performance. I declined the offer and the agency recently went into administration.
It’s worthwhile mentioning that in the previous year the MD had also refused a pay rise to another team member on maternity leave because whilst at home ‘she wasn’t working for the business so why should she get anything’. I cautioned him on the legality of his reasoning, suggested that the cost to be sued for that outlook would be more than the pay-rise itself, put him in touch with ACAS and ensured it was he who had that conversation with the ‘mum’ to explain why no pay rise had been given (not me). The pay-rise was eventually honoured.