More protection for pregnant women and parent returners

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Pregnant women and new parents returning to work are set to receive greater protection from redundancy, under new plans announced by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

A public consultation has been launched which will remain open for comments until 5 April 2019 and with full details available at https://bit.ly/2sIn8I8.

Referring to Matthew Taylor’s review of modern working practices (see More rights for gig workers under new status), BEIS said that, although pregnancy and maternity discrimination has absolutely no place in that vision, it is still far too prevalent.

With pregnant women and new mothers continuing to feel forced out of work, the Government is considering how it might extend redundancy protection for these groups.

Research commissioned by BEIS, found that one in nine women said they had been fired or made redundant when they returned to work after having a child, or were treated so badly they felt forced out of their job. The same research estimates 54,000 women a year may lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “It’s unacceptable that too many parents still encounter difficulties when returning to work. Today’s proposals are set to provide greater protection for new parents in the workplace, and put their minds at ease at this important time.”

She pointed out that the proposals go further than current EU requirements on maternity entitlements and parental leave, showing that the UK is committed to workers’ rights and meeting the challenges of the changing world of work.

What is on offer?

The consultation recommends that the current protection afforded under the Maternity and Paternity Leave, etc Regulations 1999 (which apply to the period of maternity leave) should be extended to cover the period of pregnancy and a period after— an extension of six months.

It asks how best to achieve that and who would be covered; for example, those taking shared parental leave or adoption leave.

Comment by Peninsula Associate Director Kate Palmer

Legal protection for expectant and new mothers is not a new concept; employers are already under an obligation not to discriminate against women because of their pregnancy or maternity.

Current laws also state that women on maternity leave must be treated more favourably than other employees during a redundancy exercise.

When a female employee is on maternity leave she must be offered a suitable alternative role in preference to other employees, where one is available. Employers must be careful not to interpret this is as simply asking the employee to apply for the role; the employee must be given first refusal.

This special treatment ceases to apply when the employee returns to work after maternity leave.

The Government intends to extend the period of protection for a further six months after the end of maternity leave. This means that employers will have to continue to put women who have returned from maternity leave ahead of all others when it comes to offering a suitable alternative role in a redundancy situation.

There’s also the possibility that the same will apply to whose returning from adoption leave and shared parental leave.

If the proposals are implemented, redundancy policies will have to be amended to reflect the new rights. Employers should take the time to review their current policies and prepare to change them where necessary.

Employers should also take the time to train their managers and HR departments on the effect of the changes to ensure that no risk of a discrimination claim is created when dealing with offering suitable alternative vacancies during a redundancy exercise.

Clear records should be kept of these types of family leave, including the date on which the employee returned to work to facilitate easy identification of the new extended protected period.

While a return from maternity and adoption leave is easy to identify, a return from shared parental leave is less so due to the fact it can be taken in a series of blocks with intervening periods of work. The Government is therefore considering how the new entitlement would operate with shared parental leave.

Last reviewed 31 January 2019

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