In the case of Blundell v Governing Body of St Andrew’s Catholic Primary School  the EAT considered the scope of an employee’s right to return from maternity leave to "the job in which she was employed before her absence" as required by Regulation 18 of the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999.
Mrs Blundell was employed as a teacher by St Andrews school and taught the reception class.
Each year, staff were asked to express a preference as to which class they would like to teach in the next school year. As Mrs Blundell was on maternity leave, she was not asked what her preferences would be on her return to work. Instead, before she returned to work she was given two options: either she could take up a floating role or she could teach a Year 2 class.
Mrs Blundell complained that she had a legal right to return to the same job she had left when she went on maternity leave. She brought a claim for sex discrimination.
The tribunal dismissed her claim holding that she was employed by the school as a teacher and had therefore returned to the same job.
The EAT upheld this decision but did hold that the school’s failure to consult Mrs Blundell was an act of discrimination on the grounds of sex because, but for her being on maternity leave, she would have been consulted.
Impact on employers
- Employers should ensure that they fully consult and inform women on maternity leave in relation to all workplace issues including, in particular, training opportunities, job vacancies and reorganisations; and
- When assessing whether a woman has been permitted to return to the same job, the tribunal can have regard to the normal range of variation that has previously occurred in her role. Employers should bear in mind, however, that the tribunal will look out for sudden flexibility being introduced shortly before a woman commences maternity leave as a means of allowing the employer to offer her a significantly different job on her return.