Plans to Boost Protections For Pregnant Women And New Parents Returning To Work

Continuing with the running theme of government consultations that have emerged over the course of July, the government last week released its Plans to Boost Protections For Pregnant Women And New Parents Returning To Work which is in response to the consultation on pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The consultation, which ran from 25 January 2019 to 5 April 2019, focused on extending redundancy protection for pregnant women and new parents, and came off the back of research by BEIS (published in 2016) that demonstrated pregnancy and maternity discrimination is still far too prevalent in the workplace.

The consultation looked at three main issues:

  • whether redundancy protection should be extended into the period of “return to work”;
  • whether similar protections should be given to other groups who take extended periods of leave, such as adoption or shared parental leave; and
  • whether the government could take steps that more effectively tackle pregnancy discrimination by increasing business and employer awareness.

Results Of The Consultation

There were 105 responses to the consultation directly concerned with the three issues above. The two key findings from those responses were (i) that the majority of respondents agreed six months would be an adequate period of “return to work” for redundancy protection purposes and (ii) that the protection should be extended to parents who have taken other forms of parental leave, such as adoption leave and shared parental leave.

There were also issues on enforcement raised in the consultation and on questions of tribunal time limits. However, the government does not address them in its response and plans to consult further to explore the evidence on these issues.

What Does The Government Propose To Do?

In its response paper the government proposes to do the following as a result of the feedback received:

  • Ensure the redundancy protection period applies from the point the employee informs the employer that she is pregnant, whether orally or in writing
  • Extend the redundancy protection period for six months once a new mother has returned to work;
  • Afford the same protection to those taking adoption leave; and
  • Extend redundancy protection for those returning from shared parental leave. However, the response acknowledged that shared parental leave worked differently to maternity and adoption
  • Leave in that there was increased flexibility and this could cause some issues. The government will consider this when designing the new protection.

Interestingly, the government’s response confirmed that paternity leave does not justify equal treatment to maternity leave when it comes to redundancy protection as the protection is in place for employees who are returning to work after a long absence.

The government will now work with stakeholders to develop a workable solution and look to bring forward legislation when Parliamentary time allows. So, although immediate change is not on the horizon, it is something for employers to keep on their radar.

Comment

For employers, the main impact of these commitments when they take effect will be the dramatically increased length of time for which women would have enhanced rights during any redundancy process, which will be doubled and could last for up to two years. This could have a particular impact on redundancy processes, particularly in female-dominated workforces, where many more employees might be entitled to priority for suitable alternative vacancies.

It is unsurprising that the Government needs more time to consider how to introducing protection from a return from shared parental leave might work. In their Response, the Government agrees that parents returning from shared parental leave should receive some protection from redundancy, but that a father returning from one week’s shared parental leave should not be in exactly the same position as a mother returning from 12 months’ maternity leave, as this would not be proportionate. In any event, given that the Government has just launched a separate consultation calling for views on changes to parental leave entitlements (including whether statutory paternity leave and shared parental leave should be changed and/or improved), it seems likely that the Government may wait to confirm any potential changes to the operation of parental leave more generally before establishing exactly how protection from redundancy will operate for this type of leave.

Chapter 1 of the Proposals to Support Families consultation closes on 29 November 2019.

Date Published: 25 January 2019

Plans to Boost Protections For Pregnant Women And New Parents Returning To Work

Pregnant women and new parents returning to work after having children are to be further protected from unfairly losing their jobs under new proposals set out by the Government on 24 January 2019.

The consultation proposes that the legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and new mothers on maternity leave is extended so that it continues for up to six months after they return to work. It will also seek views on affording the same protection to parents returning from adoption leave or shared parental leave.

Research commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), found one in nine women said they had been fired or made redundant when they returned to work after having a child, or were treated so badly they felt forced out of their job. The same research estimates 54,000 women a year may lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity.

Prime Minister Theresa May said,

People in this country already benefit from some of the most rigorous workplace standards in the world, including parental leave and pay entitlements, but we are determined to do even more as we leave the EU.

It’s unacceptable that too many parents still encounter difficulties when returning to work. Today’s proposals are set to provide greater protection for new parents in the workplace, and put their minds at ease at this important time.

This move goes further than current EU requirements on maternity entitlements and parental leave, showing that the UK is going even further in its commitment to workers’ rights and meeting the challenges of the changing world of work. This follows the biggest package of workplace reforms for over 20 years that was set out by the Business Secretary in December 2018 as part of the Good Work Plan.

Employees are entitled to:

  • Maternity Leave of up to 52 weeks, 39 weeks of which are paid;
  • Paternity Leave and Pay for fathers and partners;
  • Shared leave and pay for eligible parents where the mother does not intend to use all of her maternity entitlements; and
  • Flexible working for all employees with 26 weeks’ qualifying service a right to request flexible working, not only those returning from parental leave

The aim of the new legislation is to protect new parents by giving them time to re-establish themselves in the workplace and show the value they bring to their employers.

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Plans to Boost Protections For Pregnant Women And New Parents Returning To Work

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