After the government announced new proposals to protect pregnant women and new parents from unfairly losing their jobs, Kate Palmer explains what the changes would mean for employers in Britain.
Legal protection for expectant and new mothers is not a new concept; employers are already under an obligation not to discriminate against women because of their pregnancy or maternity. Current laws also state that women on maternity leave must be treated more favourably than other employees during a redundancy exercise.
However, the government has identified that there is a lack of consistency among the different areas of protection and a new consultation exercise seeks to address this. The proposals within it, if implemented, will see a woman’s protection against redundancy extended from its current scope.
When a female employee is on maternity leave, she must be offered a suitable alternative role in preference to other employees where one is available. Employers must be careful not to interpret this is as simply asking the employee to apply for the role; the employee must be given first refusal. This special treatment ceases to apply when the employee returns to work after maternity leave.
The number of women who lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity every year (BEIS)
The government intends to extend the period of protection for a further six months after the end of maternity leave.
This means that employers will have to continue to put women who have returned from maternity leave ahead of all others when it comes to offering a suitable alternative role in a redundancy situation.
There’s also the possibility that the same will apply to whose returning from adoption leave and shared parental leave.
What employers need to do
If the proposals are implemented, redundancy policies will have to be amended to reflect the new rights. Employers should take the time to review their current policies and prepare to change them where necessary.
Employers should also take the time to train their managers and HR departments on the effect of the changes to ensure that no risk of a discrimination claim is created when dealing with offering suitable alternative vacancies during a redundancy exercise.
Clear records should be kept of these types of family leave including the date on which the employee returned to work to facilitate easy identification of the new extended protected period.
Whilst a return from maternity and adoption leave is easy to identify, a return from shared parental leave is less so due to the fact it can be taken in a series of blocks with intervening periods of work. The government is considering how the new entitlement would operate with shared parental leave.
Kate Palmer is associate director of advice at Peninsula
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