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New Parents and Redundancy: Change Ahead

The Good Work Plan seems to make good sense.

Following a government commissioned consultation, new parents are to benefit from an increase in legal protection against redundancy. This follows concerns that the law is not working to protect new parents and that more needs to be done to promote job security when a new baby arrives on the scene. To quote the Business Minister “there is no place for discrimination against new parents in the modern workplace”. The Government’s stated aim is to give new parents peace of mind to manage a return to work with a young child to care for.

The statistics that came out of the consultation speak for themselves:

  • It is estimated that 54 000 women a year may lose their job as a result of pregnancy or maternity leave.
  • 1 in 9 women said they were either made redundant either during their pregnancy or upon returning to work or felt forced out of their job due to a hostile work environment following their leave.

This is what came out of the consultation:

  • 84% of employers agreed that it was beneficial to their business to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave.
  • However, around a quarter of employers also felt that pregnancy put an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace, and 51% stated that they found at least one of the statutory pregnancy and maternity rights to be unreasonable.

The government has now committed to enhance redundancy protection for new parents.

There are two sets of protection at the moment. Firstly, women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth are protected from discrimination during a “protected period” running from the start of the pregnancy until either they return from ordinary maternity leave or additional maternity leave. Secondly, if a redundancy situation arises there is an automatic right to be offered suitable alternative employment. This is a right often overlooked by employers and a rare example of positive prioritisation in employment law.

The discrimination protection has been found not to go far enough given the reality as to how things play out when women return from maternity leave. Demotions, sham redundancy situations and “temporary” maternity cover remaining in place were all too common. Or sometimes it is a case of bad treatment designed to trigger a resignation.

Returning from maternity leave can be a daunting time. Bringing a legal claim with tight time limits with a small baby at home whilst trying to settle back into work holds little appeal.

The protection against redundancy is to be extended to ensure that the protection period applies from the point when the employer is made aware of the pregnancy (be that in writing or orally) and is extended to 6 months from when the new mother has returned to work. To use an example, if a mother was to take her full maternity leave, she would be protected from redundancy for a period of 18 months, without including the period of pregnancy.

Also, new categories of parents are set to benefit from these changes, as they include extended protection for parents taking adoption and shared parental leave. Those taking adoption leave will be entitled to the same protections as for maternity leave. We are awaiting further guidance on the shared parental leave position.

The UK is trail blazing and leading the way in this area as these rights will go further than current EU requirements. The changes are welcome if we really want to walk our talk on promoting the family friendly workplace.

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Rhian Radia's picture

Rhian Radia joined Bishop & Sewell to head up the employment team in 2019.

She has a City background and over 19 years of experience practising employment law. Rhian advises both companies and senior individuals on a full range of employment matters and is well placed to see employment issues from every perspective. She works closely with HR teams to promote claim avoidance and manage risk. Rhian is committed to understanding the specific needs of her various clients and has particular experience of advising in the financial services, healthcare and media sectors.