Plans to boost protections for pregnant women and new parents returning to work

Pregnant women and new parents returning to work after having children are to be further protected from unfairly losing their jobs under new proposals set out by the Government on January 24th.

The consultation launched yesterday proposes that the legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and new mothers on maternity leave is extended so that it continues for up to six months after they return to work. It will also seek views on affording the same protection to parents returning from adoption leave or shared parental leave.

Research commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), found one in nine women said they had been fired or made redundant when they returned to work after having a child, or were treated so badly they felt forced out of their job. The same research estimates 54,000 women a year may lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity.

Prime Minister Theresa May said,

People in this country already benefit from some of the most rigorous workplace standards in the world, including parental leave and pay entitlements, but we are determined to do even more as we leave the EU.

It’s unacceptable that too many parents still encounter difficulties when returning to work. Today’s proposals are set to provide greater protection for new parents in the workplace, and put their minds at ease at this important time.

This move goes further than current EU requirements on maternity entitlements and parental leave, showing that the UK is going even further in its commitment to workers’ rights and meeting the challenges of the changing world of work. This follows the biggest package of workplace reforms for over 20 years that was set out by the Business Secretary in December 2018.

On parental leave and pay alone:  We already offer maternity entitlements of up to 52 weeks of Maternity Leave – 39 weeks of which are paid. We have given fathers and partners a statutory right to Paternity Leave and Pay, and we have allowed eligible parents to share leave and pay where the mother does not intend to use all of her maternity entitlements. And we have given all employees with 26 weeks’ qualifying service a right to request flexible working, not only those returning from parental leave

Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said,

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is illegal. But some new mothers still find unacceptable attitudes on their return to work which effectively forces them out of their jobs.

Through the modern Industrial Strategy and the largest upgrade in workers’ rights in a generation, the Government is building an economy that ensures everyone can progress at work. That’s why we are looking at ways to further protect new parents by giving them time to re-establish themselves in the workplace and show the value they bring to their employers.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet founder, said,

Mumsnet users talk a lot about pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and in a 2018 survey 96 per cent of women we surveyed said having children affected mothers’ careers for the worse.

It’s a multifaceted problem requiring a change in attitude and culture as well as legislation, but stronger legal protection is a very welcome first step.

Jane van Zyl, CEO of work-life balance charity Working Families, said,

We hear from women struggling with pregnancy and maternity discrimination every single day on our helpline. But pregnancy and maternity discrimination isn’t just bad news for families; it’s also bad news for the economy.

Whilst many of the companies we work with already understand the business benefits of family-friendly workplaces, some employers still don’t. Proposals to extend protection from redundancy to new mothers and parents returning to work should go a long way toward protecting their jobs – and to reducing the shocking number of women who lose their jobs due to pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

Because more and more parents are sharing care equally, we welcome plans to ensure equal treatment for parents returning from Shared Parental Leave or adoption – bringing their rights in line with those enjoyed by women on maternity leave.

Beverley Sunderland, MD, Crossland Employment Solicitors, commented,

A fundamental strand of our discrimination laws is that there should not be positive discrimination, so you cannot select a candidate just because they are disabled or gay. However, this is not to be confused with ‘positive action’ which allows employers to recognise that those who share a protected characteristic may be at a disadvantage, for instance older people not being as familiar with computers, and offering computer lessons to employees over 50.

However, introducing legislation to prevent employers from making pregnant women and parents returning from maternity leave redundant for a certain period is undoubtedly going to be viewed as crossing the line into positive discrimination. There is a fundamental obligation on an employer to apply fair and objective selection criteria in a redundancy situation and being made redundant simply because everyone else in the pool is either pregnant or returning from maternity leave is neither.

Hopefully the consultation will highlight these issues and find a better way of dealing with what is clearly a problem – for instance giving the employee a fast track employment route similar to interim relief in whistleblowing cases or setting up a Government body which must give approval for a dismissal of a pregnant women or parent returning from maternity leave. This will allow employers to justify genuine redundancies and will discourage those who are discriminating from doing so.







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