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My employer wants an “off the record chat”

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My employer wants an “off the record chat” with me…what do I do?

Karen Bexley mlp

By Karen Bexley – MLP Law

There are various scenarios where your employer may request an “off the record” chat with you. Often these conversations occur when there are issues dealing with a woman’s return from maternity leave.

There is a legal right for employers to have such conversations, and if the requirements are followed, then the conversation is known as a protected conversation.

For example, you’ve just returned to work, you’re hardly getting any sleep, you’re tired from the night feeds, you’re missing your baby, having issues with childcare and you’re struggling to commit to former full time role… your employer won’t listen to you and isn’t helping you…what can you do?

Well, there are lots of options for you including the right to request flexible working. You can approach your employer and ask to change your hours and/or days so that you are no longer working full time or can be based partly at home and partly in the office, for example. Your employer has to listen to your request and respond to it fairly and, if they don’t, then you can challenge that decision.
It is not uncommon for employers to try having protected conversations with women returning from maternity leave to seek to find a resolution.


What is a protected conversation?


A protected conversation, often referred to as a ‘without prejudice’ or “off the record” conversation, usually comes about because your employer wants to make you an offer to leave work. The aim of these conversations is to have an open and honest conversation about your employment and to mutually agree an exit. These conversations can’t be used in an Employment Tribunal and are therefore ‘protected’.

However…your employer is not protected if the conversation relates to discrimination.


What should I do if my employer asks me to have a protected conversation?


First things first, don’t panic – hear them out and see what they have to say. At this stage it’s all about listening.

You don’t have to make any decision and can take your time. The guidance is that your employer should give you a minimum of 10 days to consider any offer that may be put to you.

The next thing is to write everything down. So, make sure you take detailed notes and ask your employer to put everything they are saying to you in writing.

If you need to, ask for clarity on some points. For example, ‘are you saying that you would not want me to come back to work, even to work my notice period?’. It is important that you ask if you are not sure but remember that you can also ask afterwards, once you have had time to think away from work and received everything in writing.

You do not have to accept any offer put to you and your employer can’t treat you differently for failing to accept an offer.
Last but not least, make sure you speak to a specialist employment solicitor. This may have never happened to you before but they see this sort of thing every day. You need to fully understand what is being put to you and what your options are. Everyone is different, every circumstance is specific and you need to know what you can do and how you can go about doing it.

At MLP Law, we assist working mums at every stage of their careers. We know how difficult it can be and we want to help you.
If you need any further information, or advice, on protected conversations, returning to work after maternity or anything working mum related, you can call one of the MLP Employment team on 0161 926 9969 or drop and email to employment@mlplaw.co.uk.

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