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Extended protection for new mothers?

A recently announced government consultation (which is running until 5 April) is seeking views on extending redundancy protection for new parents.

Research commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2016 found that one in nine mothers reported they felt forced to leave their job, and 77% said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave and/or on return from maternity leave. A report published by the Women and Equalities Commission in 2016 showed that the number of expectant and new mothers who felt forced to leave their jobs had almost doubled since 2005. The consultation seeks views on proposals to address these concerns.

Currently, under the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999, an employer must offer a suitable alternative vacancy (where one exists) to a woman on maternity leave before making her redundant. The proposal is to extend this protection for 6 months after the mother returns to work.

The consultation also seeks views on whether the protection should be extended to those taking adoption leave or shared parental leave.

However, this raises several questions, such as – what happens if the mother takes a period of annual leave before returning to work? Or, if the parents take shared parental leave which can be taken in blocks, returning to work in between taking periods of shared parental leave?

The consultation is also seeking views as to when the redundancy protection should start, e.g. should it start from when the woman notifies her employer that she is pregnant, rather than from the start of maternity leave.

In my view, the proposals as they stand are unlikely to make much of a difference in practice, and it is already unlawful to make someone redundant because of their pregnancy or their maternity leave. However, if the proposals are adopted then employers will need to be more vigilant when carrying out redundancy processes and be aware of employees who may be entitled to be offered suitable alternative vacancies in priority over others.

Whilst the consultation doesn’t ask any questions about extending Tribunal time limits for pregnancy and maternity related claims, it is something that the government has said it will consult on, and views on this are currently being sought by the Law Commission in its consultation.

We will of course keep you up to date with developments.

If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).

Please note that this update is not intended to be exhaustive or be a substitute for legal advice. The application of the law in this area will often depend upon the specific facts and you are advised to seek specific advice on any given scenario.

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