Research undertaken in 2016 by BIS (the predecessor to BEIS) and EHRC found that 77% of mothers surveyed said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave or on their return to work and 50% of mothers described a negative impact on their opportunity, status or job security. In particular, the research suggested that redundancy among mothers at some point during pregnancy, maternity leave or on return to work is considerably higher than the redundancy rate among female employees as a whole, with 11% saying they felt forced to leave their job.
Later in 2016, the Women and Equalities Select Committee made a number of recommendations to the UK Government following its inquiry into pregnancy and maternity discrimination. This included not only a recommendation that "additional protection from redundancy for new and expectant mothers is required" but also a conclusion that the time limit for new and expectant mothers for bringing employment tribunal claims should be reviewed with a recommendation that a six month limit would be more appropriate than the existing three months.
When it was published in July 2017, the Taylor Review made similar recommendations in relation to the prevention of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The Government response to the Taylor Review accepted the recommendations and contained a commitment to review the legislation relating to the protection against redundancy and to keep existing protections under review.
Taking a lead from both the Women and Equalities Select Committee report and the Taylor Review, the UK Government has published a consultation document that:-
sets out the current legal protections for pregnant women and new mothers under the Equality Act 2010 and the Employment Rights Act 1996;
asks how an extension of redundancy protection currently afforded under the Employment Rights Act for those on maternity leave and other types of family related leave and pay might work best, and how long this protection should last;
asks whether a similar protection should be afforded to other groups (such as those returning from other forms of long term childcare leave – principally adoption leave and shared parental leave);
sets out the steps that the UK 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, to tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination more effectively;
considers the existing approach to the enforcement of employment and equalities legislation in the context of the recommendations from the Women and Equalities Select Committee and the Taylor Review; and
discusses the 3-month time limit within which a claim of discrimination can ordinarily be brought to an Employment Tribunal.
The consultation runs until 5 April 2019. It seems likely that there will be some increase to the legal protections afforded to female employees relating to maternity leave and we will provide further updates on this important issue as matters develop.