Government reforms (1): Family friendly – Protection against redundancy

In 2016 the Women and Equalities Select Committee held an inquiry into pregnancy and maternity discrimination (see our Blog Is employment law currently failing pregnant women?). The Committee found that discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers had become more common over the previous ten years and recommended steps that the Government should take to improve the situation. One recommendation was to extend the existing protection against redundancy for new mothers.

Research commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has also revealed that 1 in 9 women said they had been fired or made redundant when they returned to work after having a child or felt forced to leave their position as a result of poor treatment. The research estimated that up to 54,000 women lose their jobs each year due to maternity or pregnancy.

The Government has now published a consultation, Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination: Consultation on extending redundancy protection for women and new parents (available here).  The Government is consulting on what changes could be made to the current framework to provide such extra protection to pregnant employees.

At the moment, a woman who is at risk of redundancy during maternity leave is entitled to be offered available suitable alternative employment but has no special protection before maternity leave starts or once she returns to work (provided that she is not selected for redundancy because of pregnancy or maternity leave). The options in the consultation include:

  • Extending the right to be offered suitable alternative employment in a redundancy situation to pregnant women who have notified their employers in writing that they are pregnant;
  • Extending the right to be offered suitable alternative employment in a redundancy situation to women for a six month period following their return to work from maternity leave; and
  • Giving similar additional protection to parents returning to work from adoption leave, shared parental leave or “longer periods of parental leave”.

The Consultation also:

  • sets out the steps that the Government is taking to increase employees’ awareness of their rights, and employers’ awareness of their obligations, and invites comments on how they might be improved; and
  • considers the existing approach to the enforcement of employment and equalities legislation in the context of recommendations from the Women and Equalities Select Committee and the Taylor Review; and
  • discusses the three month time limit within which a claim of discrimination can ordinarily be brought to an Tribunal.

However, the Government has ruled out a suggestion (based on the system that applies in Germany) that would require employers to obtain permission from a public authority before dismissing an employee who is pregnant or who has recently given birth.

The Consultation ends on 5 April 2019.