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Redundancy protection to be extended when new parents return to work

Plans to extend redundancy protections for pregnant women and new mothers was announced this month, entitling them to an additional six months once they return to work. According to the Government’s consultation response, these benefits would also stretch to those who are taking adoption or shared parental leave

As part of the Good Work Plan, the recent announcement follows several other proposed measures designed to support working parents; including new leave entitlements for parents of premature and sick babies. (The Good Work Plan proposal is open for consultation until the 29th November 2019 and can be accessed here).

Are pregnant and new mothers protected under current legislation?

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is illegal in the UK, and both the Equality Act 2010 and the Employment Rights Act 1996 offer protections for pregnant and new mothers. The Equality Act sets out a ‘protected period’ where pregnant women or those who have recently given birth are explicitly covered from discrimination. The ‘protected period’ – which runs from the start of a person’s pregnancy until their return to work or two weeks after the end of the pregnancy – stops a woman being discriminated against because of:

  • Her pregnancy
  • Any illness (or absence due to the illness) related to the pregnancy
  • Being on compulsory maternity leave
  • Looking to take, taking or having taken ordinary or additional maternity leave

Under the Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999, women on maternity leave also have special protection in a redundancy situation. Employers must offer employees on maternity leave a suitable alternative vacancy where one is readily available, giving a pregnant woman priority over other employees who are also at risk of redundancy. 

Despite this, research from the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS) found three in four women (77 per cent) had a negative or discriminatory experience while pregnant, on maternity leave, or on return from maternity leave. Additionally, one in nine mothers said they were either fired or made redundant when returning to work, or were mistreated to the point they felt pushed out of their job.

Result of Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Consultation

Looking to address the issues, the Government published a consultation this year to consider extending redundancy protections for mothers and new parents. Running from 25th January-5th April 2019, the consultation invited views on three main issues:

  1. Should the redundancy protection for maternity leave that is currently available be extended into a period of ‘return to work’
  2. Whether similar protections should be afforded to other groups – such as adoption and shared parental leave – who take extended periods of leave for similar purposes
  3. Could the Government do more to increase business and employer awareness of their rights and obligations and how it might be improved to tackle pregnancy discrimination more effectively

In response to the first question, over three-quarters of respondents agreed that the current redundancy protection for those on maternity leave is not enough and should be extended to include their return to work. 

With more than 80 per cent of people in agreement with the second question, the Government’s consultation response confirms it will now plan the extension of redundancy protection to six months from the date of returning to work for mother’s, as well as for those who take adoption or shared parental leave. This will help ensure new parents are not discriminated against in the workplace, regardless of their circumstance or gender. 

The response to the final question has resulted in the Government now planning a taskforce of employers and family groups who will make recommendations on how to help new mothers stay in work. The taskforce will also look at how to raise awareness to both employers and families about pregnancy and maternity discrimination. 

Following the announcement of the reforms on the 22nd July 2019, Business Minister, Kelly Tolhurst, concluded:

“There is no place for discrimination against new parents in the modern workplace. It is unacceptable that new parents continue to feel they are treated unfairly and the Government is determined to put an end to this.” 

Contact our Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Lawyers in London, UK

If you have been discriminated against because of your pregnancy, speak with a member of our qualified employment law team today by completing the online enquiry form

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