This is quite long winded, these things usually are due to internal company politics and personalities so please bear with me…
I was a department Manager in the voluntary sector, before my pregnancy I had worked to the company for 5 years. My manager at that time was incompetent and I carried some of her workload as well as my own, all with no extra pay. The Board of Directors, like all voluntary sector projects boards, was made up of volunteers, many of whom were unskilled or elderly people. To cut a long story short our funding body carried out a major audit on the project, the manager, realising her shortcomings were about to be found out, resigned her position, it was at that time I discovered I was pregnant. The project failed the audit and we were given 6 months to turn things around otherwise we would be closed down. The directors not only did not have the skills to help but did not have the interest in doing so, they attitude was ‘we’re working for nothing, not our job’ and at the end of the day their jobs were not on the line, therefore they offered me the managerial post in the knowldge that I had carried the previous manager so I could carry them as well. I refused as I knew carrying the can for their duties as well would involve a lot of pressure and extra hours for no pay, I had issues getting pregnant, not going into personal details but it took me a long time to get pregnant and I did not want to jeopardise my health. On my refusal the Chairman informed me the project would be closed if I refused the position. I did not tell them at that time my reason for the refusal, I was literally only about 6 weeks and wanted to wait until the 3 month stage before telling anyone, including my own family but neither did I fancy the idea of being unemployed whilst pregnant considering my partner had returned to Uni and I was the breadwinner – lets face it, my prospects of getting another job were virtually nil, what employer would give a job to a pregnant woman? I therefore accepted the position, under duress. I worked approximately 80 hours per week, weekends included for no extra salary and duly passed the second audit with flying colours. I informed the Board of my pregnancy at 3 months, afterwhich attitudes changed. One director (a woman) actually said at the meeting “Why now?”. Some of the Directors even had an attitude that I had conned them in some way, even though I had no legal obligation to tell them of my pregnancy at such an early stage but had done so anyway out of courtesy.
I worked right up to my due date, pulling out all the stops for the project. I gave them plenty of notice of my maternity leave but they failed to recruit a qualified person to cover my position opting instead for one the volunteer board members to cover for me. He proved to be the problem, he was thoroughly incompetent. In order to attempt to cover up his incompetence he blocked my attendance at Board meetings. I had, prior to my leave arranged to attend board meetings at part of my 10 KIT (keeping in touch) days but he would ‘forget’ to tell me when the meetings were being held. He cut me off from everyone as he wanted to drive me out of my job in order to take over permanently. He informed my staff that I was constantly on the phone talking about them, lies like I was trying get them sacked etc, he also told the Board I was not interested in attending meetings, even going as far as saying I was not allowed on the premises due to insurance reasons – a ludicrous statement considering it was a public serving project that anybody could walk into. I then took the step of contacting the directors myself and voiced my concerns, wherein they admitted they knew he couldn’t cope with the job but were just letting him get on with it until I returned – like I said, they were volunteers, their jobs were not on the line and they really couldn’t care less if the project was being driven into the ground. I was then left with no choice but to raise an official written grievance 2 weeks before I returned to work. As a last ditch attempt to stop my return, the problem director arranged for the staff to raise grievances against me – one of the staff I had worked with for 2 weeks before my maternity and didn’t even know me and another I had worked with for 5 years prior with no issues. I returned to work regardless, not only was the office atmosphere poisoned but the Board of Directors had labelled me as a ‘sh*t-stirrer’ because I had put my grievances in writing, they could no longer be ignored and they could no longer sweep issues under the carpet.
On my return I discovered that the acting manager was embezzling expenses, actions covered up by my finance officer but again the Board swept it under the carpet, which just made matters worse. The matter was dealt with by the Board allowing the acting manager/director to ‘resign with dignity’ at the next AGM – nearly 6 months later and the finance officer got a bit of a telling off. During this time he was still officially a director and used this to make my life hell, he continued to visit my office on a daily basis and contact all my staff at home encouraging them to raise further unfounded grievances against me and the rest of the board did nothing to support me. The Project was a mess, all the systems I had put in place before my maternity leave had fallen into disarray and the staff were so hell bent on listening to the soon-to-be-retired director they couldn’t see how much damage they all were doing to the project. I had to go to work every day constantly looking over my shoulder, the atmosphere was awful. I ended up off sick for almost a month with stress.
Whilst off sick I was sent an email by accident wherein I discovered the Board were planning to force me to resign my position, they clearly did not believe my illness was genuine and had engaged an employment law expert who had given them detailed advice. They also had found out that I had been receiving further IVF treatment (it appears a sister of a director worked in admin at our local clinic and had been talking out of school). Redundancy wasn’t an option as the funding body stipulated the Project had to have a manager, (when making an employee redundant it is the job, not the person being made redundant). If they sacked me they had to have a good reason, which they didn’t, also in a tribunal case the onus would be on them to prove I was incompetent in my job and if they forced me to resign I would have to take a case for constructive dismissal and the onus would be on me to prove why I was forced out, very difficult when a lot of the evidence was based on non-recorded conversations. I would not get any redundancy pay if I resigned and they then they could just close the company, which was limited by guarantee, meaning they would get off scott free. I took legal advice on the matter and discovered that even though I had a good case but that would indeed involve my leaving my job, signing on and taking a case for constructive dismissal that would cost me in the region of £10,000-£15,000 in legal fees if it went to tribunal and if I won I maybe would receive a payout just enough to cover said fees, if lucky. Unfortunately, contrary to media reports massive payouts are not the norm. Also the limited company part was correct, they whole tribunal system would most likely take a lot longer to complete than the process in closing the company down, therefore I would be throwing money at a legal team for nothing. I learnt that employment laws are not robust enough to protect employee rights, and not just pregnant women either.
As much as I hate to say it my only way out whilst protecting myself was to be smart and play the system so I stayed off on the sick. I learnt the hard way that being good at my job, hard-working and diligent meant nothing at the end up therefore I played their game, only I had to play it better. Fortunately my sick pay was quite good, full pay for 14 weeks. Whilst on sick leave I fell pregnant again, so I went back to my work after my full pay ran out. I hadn’t actually planned to do that, my original plan was to take my sick leave, look for another job then hand in my notice but after the way I was treated any loyalty I had to the firm was gone. They hired personnel professionals to call me into meetings whilst off sick, which I attended. I provided all documentation they were legally entitled to, fought them on information they hadn’t, went back to my desk after my sick leave ran out, I worked for another 6 weeks to get my SSP credits up again, took off sick again, straight back onto full pay for 14 weeks then started my maternity leave once that ran out. I’m sure there are people out there who will think ‘what a b*tch, but at the end of the day I was never that employee and wouldn’t have been that employee had I been treated with some respect. The way I see it they had no issues trying to shaft me therefore I played the game and shafted them back, all perfectly legally and above board, which would them up even more. If they had been half decent employers none of it would have happened.
And the Project? After I went off on sick the whole think fell apart. I was the only person who had the skills to keep it running properly therefore it limped along for a while and just as my maternity leave was about to run out it closed down, by that stage I had other work lined up so I ended up with my redundancy pay after all. I am now happy with my new employment, it took me a while to trust people again after that, my new manager even commented recently that I looked scared to death at the beginning, I almost would jump when she spoke to me but slowly I have moved on and my confidence has come back. Thankfully not all employers are bullies like the people I worked for, bullies are people who are incompentent in their jobs and their actions are a power play for their egos, people who are good at what they do don’t need to bully others. There is life after being bullied, but it does take time.