In late February we blogged (here) about the government's proposed reforms to redundancy protection for new mothers and expecting parents. The consultation has now concluded and the government has confirmed that it will go ahead and extend the current protection.

As it stands if a pregnant employee or woman on maternity leave is selected for redundancy an employer has an obligation to offer her a suitable alternative vacancy, where one is available, seemingly in priority to other potential redundant employees. The alternative vacancy must be suitable and appropriate for the individual woman involved and the terms must not be "substantially less favourable" than the current role. This protection stops when the employee returns to work. There is no blanket ban on the dismissal of pregnant employees or those on maternity leave.

The results of the consultation estimated that as many as 54,000 women a year felt they had been subjected to discrimination and had to leave their jobs as a result. Further, one in nine women said that on returning to work from having a child they had been made redundant or dismissed, failing which they were treated so poorly they felt forced to resign.

The key commitments following the consultation are as follows:

  • Extension of redundancy protection after return from maternity leave: protection against redundancy will be applicable from the point the employee informs the employer that she is pregnant, whether orally or in writing, until six months after a new mother has returned to work. There is no proposal to introduce a blanket ban on dismissals during this period, as applies in some other jurisdictions.
  • Extension of redundancy protection after return from adoption leave: similar redundancy protection will apply to those returning after a period of adoption leave.
  • Extension of redundancy protection after return from shared parental leave: greater protection will also apply to those coming back to work after shared parental leave ('SPL'). However, due to the 'legal and practical differences' of this type of leave (e.g. the fact that SPL can be combined with maternity leave, taken for short periods or in blocks) means that a slightly different approach will be required. The government does not, for example, consider it appropriate for a father who has taken two weeks' SPL to be in the same position as a woman returning after 12 months' maternity leave.
  • Creation of taskforce: a taskforce will be created to aid the government by making recommendations going forward in relation to improvements that can be made to ensure employers and families have access to information on pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The taskforce will also develop an action plan to assist the government and other organisations in making it easier for new and expecting mothers to stay in work.

These reforms propel the UK forward in terms of pregnancy and maternity protection and are well supported by respondents to the consultation and the Women and Equalities Select Committee. New parents will be afforded increased protection against being made redundant and allowed a better opportunity to re-integrate into the workplace following a period of leave.

The government has committed to bring forward legislation 'when Parliamentary time allows' - we'll keep you updated.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog. Workbox users can find more information at the page on Maternity: Redundancy.