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Extending redundancy protection for women and new parents

Research by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (“BEIS”) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) in 2016 found that 77% of mothers had either a negative or discriminatory experience during their pregnancy, maternity leave or after they had returned from their maternity leave.

Consultation

As a result of the BEIS research, the Government examined redundancy protection for women and new parents in a consultation that ran from January to April 2019. This consultation sought to examine:

  • Whether the current redundancy protection available to women on maternity leave should be extended to include a period of ‘return to work’;
  • Whether other groups who take leave for similar reasons, such as Shared Parental Leave or adoption, should be given similar protections; and
  • Whether the Government’s approach to increasing employers’ awareness of their rights and obligations can be improved to better tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

The current position

Currently, employees on maternity leave are only entitled to redundancy protection during the period that they are on maternity leave under regulation 10 of The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999. In a redundancy situation, employees on maternity leave are entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy by their employer (where available) and the terms of that vacancy should not be substantially less favourable to them than those of their previous position.

Response to Consultation

In July 2019, the Government published a response to the consultation. In this response it has committed to legislating to extend redundancy protection for women and new parents. The notable changes to be introduced are that:

  • Redundancy protection will apply from the point at which the employee informs the employer that she is pregnant. This can either be verbally or in writing.
  • Redundancy protection will apply for a further six months after the employee has returned to work. This will be as soon as maternity leave has ended.

Furthermore, employees who have taken adoption leave will also be entitled to protection from redundancy for six months after they have returned to work.

The Government also intends to extend the redundancy protection of parents returning from Shared Parental Leave. However, it has recognised that this is different to maternity leave. In the Government’s response, it is suggested that a father returning from one week’s Shared Parental Leave should not be in the same position as a mother who has returned from 12 months of maternity leave. Therefore, the Government has suggested that a different approach will have to be taken because of the practical and legal differences between the two types of leave, but this approach has not yet been identified.

Comment

Although the Government intends to bring forward legislation to implement the above changes, this will be “when Parliamentary time allows” and this may not be any time soon.  It also remains to be seen whether these changes, when implemented, will have an impact on the levels of discrimination for pregnant women and mothers who are either on maternity leave or who are returning from it.

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