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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
I have recently returned to my role in Brethertons’ employment team from a ten-month period of maternity leave, and in this time I was fortunate in meeting a sociable circle of new parent friends. During my maternity period (whilst adapting to the toughest new role I expect ever to face in my life!) I felt secure in the knowledge that my job and its full responsibilities and opportunities would await my return; and that my employer would respect my changed lifestyle and needs*. Before returning, I applied to change my working pattern from a full-time to a part-time role; and was confident in doing so that my application would be considered fairly, it was and they could not have been more helpful.
According to the Women and Equalities Select Committee (‘WESC’), my experience here is in the minority of new mothers returning to work. In March 2016, Government research into pregnancy and maternity-related issues at work revealed that a staggering 77% of women reported negative experiences at work in connection with their pregnancy or maternity.
Sadly, this statistic does marry up with the number of my new mum friends and contacts who seem to have been subjected to various maternity-related discrimination and unfair treatment by their respective employers whilst pregnant, on leave or upon returning to work. Several were made ‘redundant’ during their maternity leave, without any business reasoning or due consultation being afforded them. Two new mums quit their jobs and have found employment elsewhere. Another issued a grievance about the unjust treatment she received upon return, and has now lost confidence in her employer.
What is being proposed?
The Government’s current consultation is seeking views on extending redundancy protection for pregnant women and new parents.
The 2016 WESC report on pregnancy and maternity discrimination revealed that the number of expectant and new mothers being forced out of their jobs had almost doubled since 2005. It recommended that women in the UK should have protections similar to those in Germany; where from the start of pregnancy until four months following childbirth employers can only dismiss an employee in very rare circumstances and need Government approval to do so. In its response to the WESC report, the Government committed to strengthening women’s rights in relation to pregnancy, maternity and redundancy.
Under the current Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations, employers must offer women on maternity leave a suitable alternative role, where one is available, where they are put at risk of redundancy (giving them priority over other employees put at risk). The key question under the present consultation is whether to extend this right for up to six months after employees return to work from maternity leave. The government considers that this would be the simplest way by which to achieve consistency and further protection for new mothers; so that women who have recently returned to work have the same protection they benefitted from whilst on maternity leave.
The consultation will also consider the impact of extending this redundancy protection to others who have taken extended family leaves, such as those returning from adoption leave or shared parental leave. The consultation process runs until 5 April 2019, so we should hope to see Government’s conclusions on the subject shortly after this date.
Regardless of the consultation outcome, employers should beware discriminating against pregnant employees, or those just returned from family leaves, by indirect or unconscious means. The fair treatment of all employees is essential to the duty of trust and confidence owed by the employer, and could save a business much in terms of avoiding tribunal fees, settlement sums and the costs of recruiting and retraining staff. Contact us if we can help with redundancy consultation, drafting maternity/family leave policies or managing employees on family leaves. (Or click here, if you fancy working with us!)
* These words are my own – no coercion or inducement by Brethertons!
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