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The extension of redundancy protection for women and new parents

The UK government have initiated a 10-week open consultation on extending the legal protections afforded to pregnant women and new parents against redundancy for up to six months after they return to work. The proposals under consultation will form part of the biggest package of workplace reforms in 20 years.

Currently, it is directly discriminatory to make an employee redundant because of their pregnancy. Women on maternity leave are also given greater protections in a redundancy situation by being entitled to any suitable alternative employment available, above other suitable candidates.  

In the UK, mothers have a maternity entitlement of up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, 39 weeks of which are paid. Fathers and partners have a statutory right to paternity leave and pay and eligible parents can share this maternity entitlement. Finally, all employees with a minimum of 26 weeks' service have a right to request flexible working.

However, research commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), found 1 in 9 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.

Further research commissioned in collaboration with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in 2016 found that 11% of women reported they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job. 20% of mothers reported other financial loss which included failing to gain a promotion, salary reduction, a lower pay rise or bonus, not receiving non-salary benefits and/or demotion.

The government have responded strongly to this research, with PM Theresa May saying that: "It's unacceptable that too many parents still encounter difficulties when returning to work."

"People in this country already benefit from some of the most rigorous workplace standards in the world, including parental leave and pay entitlements, but we are determined to do even more as we leave the EU."

Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst also said: "Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is illegal, but some new mothers still find unacceptable attitudes on their return to work which effectively forces them out of their jobs.

The government response was taken a step further on the 25th January 2019 when the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launched an open consultation proposing to extend the current discrimination protections for pregnant women and new parents returning to work. This action has been welcomed by consumer groups.

The consultation on the plans which closes on 5 April 2019, will also look at whether fathers who've taken shared parental leave and parents who've adopted should be given the same rights. It will also consider whether to extend the three-month limit parents have to bring a discrimination case to an employment tribunal to six months.

The consultation is the government's response to the Taylor Review of concerns which had previously been raised by the Women and Equalities Select Committee (WESC). It recommends the extension of 6 months to the current protection afforded under the Maternity and Paternity Leave Regulations 1999.

The consultation suggests that the legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and new mothers as detailed in the Equality Act 2010 and the Employment Rights Act 1996, should be extended to six months after they return to work. It also asks how this extension would work best and outlines the steps that the government is taking to increase employees’ awareness of their rights and employers’ awareness on their obligations.

The government says the proposals exceed current EU requirements on maternity entitlements and parental leave, showing that “the UK is going even further in its commitment to workers’ rights and meeting the challenges of the changing world of work”.

Despite this, campaigner Joeli Brearley, said the extensions won't help pregnant women being targeted at work. "The problem isn't the law - the law is very clear, it is illegal to make someone redundant due to pregnancy or maternity," she said. She also cited "prohibitively expensive childcare" plus the fact that a lack of flexible working "makes it almost impossible for parents to manage their responsibilities".

We eagerly anticipate the results of the consultation following its closure in April.

To find the full consultation, please click here

For more information, please get in touch with Claire or Rebecca in our employment team. 


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