Employees are protected from suffering a detriment or dismissal for taking, or seeking to take, maternity leave. You must not subject an employee to any detriment by acting or deliberately failing to act, because she took maternity leave or sought to take maternity leave. This could include denying promotion, facilities or training opportunities which would normally have been made available to the employee.
If an employee believes you have treated her detrimentally then she can make a claim of sex discrimination at an employment tribunal.
If a redundancy situation arises at any stage during an employee's maternity leave and you may not be able to continue to employ her under her existing contract of employment then you must offer her (before that contract ends) any suitable alternative vacancies, where one is available. This includes a vacancy with an associated employer or with a successor to the original employer.
The new job must start immediately after the end of the original one and must:
This requirement takes precedence over the general requirement to offer suitable alternative positions to all employees who are at risk of redundancy, i.e. an employee on maternity leave must be offered any suitable alternative vacancies first.
If you fail to comply with these requirements and dismiss the employee, the dismissal may be unfair. She may also have a claim for sex discrimination.
If you end up making an employee on maternity leave redundant because you had no suitable alternative work to offer her, or if you offered her suitable alternative employment which she unreasonably refused, then the dismissal may be fair.
Note that, on dismissal:
The dismissal of an employee will be automatically unfair if you dismiss her - or select her for redundancy in preference to other comparable employees - solely or mainly because she:
Dismissal, selection for redundancy or other detrimental treatment in these circumstances may also amount to sex discrimination, for which employment tribunal compensation is uncapped.
It is still possible for you to fairly dismiss an employee who is on - or who has recently returned from - maternity leave. However, the reason for the dismissal must:
You must comply with the correct disciplinary and dismissal procedurewhen dismissing an employee.
You can fairly dismiss an employee you took on to replace an employee on maternity leave. However, make sure you inform them that their position is only for maternity cover before they start.