The government has confirmed that redundancy protection will now apply from the time the organisation is informed of a pregnancy until six months after the mother returns to work.
In May, we reported that a Bill had been introduced to Parliament that called for the extension of current protections for employees on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave. Following on from a consultation held earlier this year into tackling forms of discrimination faced by working parents, the government has now confirmed that existing legal protections will be extended going forward.
Under current equality law, pregnant women and new mothers have a ‘protected period’ during which they are protected from discrimination on the grounds of their pregnancy. If a redundancy situation arises and it is not practicable for an employee on maternity leave to continue to be employed under her existing contract, she is entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy where one exists. Despite this, these redundancy protections have previously only covered the period until the employee returned to work, or two weeks after the end of her pregnancy if she did not take any maternity leave.
The government has now committed to the following areas:
- extending the redundancy protection period to apply from the point the employee informs the organisation she is pregnant and last six months after she has returned to work. This protection will also apply to those on adoption leave
- extending the redundancy protection period for any employees on shared parental leave, with more guidance on this forthcoming at a later date
- setting up a taskforce to develop an action plan for additional steps that can be taken by the government and other organisations to assist pregnant employees and new mothers to stay in work.
This announcement would seem to be the latest move by the government in facilitating workplace reform, something that remains a priority as part of the Good Work Plan. Kelly Tolhurst, Business Minister, outlines that these new provisions ‘will better protect new parents, giving them the peace of mind to manage the return to work whilst also caring for the child’. Scrutiny on the treatment of working parents continues to gain prevalence, with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) previously outlining that one in nine women have been fired, or faced redundancy, following childbirth.
The government has yet to confirm when these developments will come into force. In the meantime, it is highly advisable that organisations familiarise themselves with the current protections afforded to employees on family leave and prepare for ongoing changes to the law.