Research undertaken by BIS (the predecessor to BEIS) in conjunction with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR) in 2016 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 on the whole. This is despite the fact that there has been enhanced protection from redundancy for women during maternity in place for some time - the Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999 require an employer to offer a woman on maternity leave any suitable alternative vacancy prior to making her redundant. In practice, this gives the employee on maternity leave priority over other employees who are also at risk of redundancy and is a rare example of lawful positive discrimination.
The Women and Equalities Select Committee made a recommendation to the UK Government in 2016 that additional protection from redundancy for new and expectant mothers was required, and the Taylor Review made similar recommendations in 2017 in relation to the prevention of pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Earlier this year, the UK Government launched a consultation on extending the redundancy protection of women and new parents. The consultation closed in April and the Government response was published on 21 July. The response confirms that the Government is committed to:-
Extending the redundancy protection period so it begins when the employee informs her employer of her pregnancy and ends 6 months after she returns to work;
Extending the protection for adoptive parents for a period of 6 months after the return from adoptive leave;
Extending protection for those taking shared parental leave taking into account the legal differences between shared parental leave and maternity leave, the need for the protected period to be proportionate to the amount of shared parental leave that is taken and the consequential threat of discrimination, and ensuring a mother who curtails her maternity leave and subsequently takes shared parental leave is no worse off;
Creating a taskforce of employer and family representative groups who will make recommendations on improvements to the information available to employers and families on pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The taskforce will also develop an action plan on what steps the Government and other organisations can take to make it easier for pregnant and new mothers to stay in work.
It is intended that further consultation will take place over the coming months on the protection for those on shared parental leave.
Although the consultation sought views on the extension to time limits for tribunal claims and a majority of those who responded were in favour, this issue is also the subject of a separate consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace, running between 11 July and 2 October 2019. For that reason no response was given on this issue and it will be considered alongside the responses to the sexual harassment consultation. Although some of the consultation responses referred to increased protection for those returning from long term sickness absence, time off for dependants and following miscarriage no comment was made on these points in the response.
While the timescale for implementation is somewhat vague, it should be assumed that these new rights will become law at some point. We will provide further updates on this as matters develop.