Career Clinic

Q: I have just returned from maternity leave to find that, despite retaining the same job title and terms and conditions, my job is quite different. My line manager says this simply reflects new ways of working

A: Your rights under the maternity regulations are many and varied, but the right to return is quite straightforward. Essentially you have a right to expect that your antenatal post is available to you when or if you decide to return to it.

If that is not possible – for example, if your old post has been made redundant during your absence – the right transfers to another “substantially similar” post. In other words, you can expect to be re-employed at the same pay rate and doing work that you have the skills to do. In this respect, your employer appears to have satisfied their legal obligation. The legislation is more concerned with terms and conditions of employment rather than the finer details of a job description.

It is quite normal for jobs to change their focus because we need to react to service-user need, team dynamics and, of course, the amorphous government initiatives.

When you are doing the job, you hardly notice the changes. After a fortnight’s holiday, it takes a while to pick up on what’s happened while you’ve been away. A maternity leave, however, can amount to a substantial absence if you’ve taken the maximum leave and possibly tacked on untaken annual leave at the end, and “slotting back into the old role” is unrealistic without some extra help.

Your “softer” rights, as opposed to the legislative ones, are just as important, and they are that you are prepared for the job you thought you did, but which now looks different.

Some local authorities use KIT days (keeping in touch days) during your maternity leave, whereby you can attend team events, undertake training and so on without losing your maternity allowances or foreshortening your maternity leave, and these can be useful in getting you back up to speed with what might be a new way of working.

If your concern is about your ability to go back to essentially frontline work – perhaps because it’s been a while since you last did it – you should talk to your line manager about updating your training. This isn’t a ­personal loss of face the opportunity to update knowledge is something to be grasped by all of us. On the other hand, if your concern is not about your ability to do it but the fact that you don’t want to do it, you have a different dilemma.

Try not to be unduly concerned that a return to frontline work will downgrade your managerial skills. In reality, they will be enhanced rather than weakened by a clear understanding of the pressures and rewards of being a current practitioner.

When you are back up to speed, and if you still want a more managerial role, you will then be ideally placed to apply for other jobs – either inside your organisation or elsewhere.

Alison Sanger is a social care HR consultant

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