The government has published its response to its January 2019 consultation on “pregnancy and maternity discrimination: extending redundancy protection for women and new parents” and has confirmed that it will now take action to address such discrimination.
As the law currently stands, employees who are placed at risk of redundancy when they are absent on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave have an absolute right to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy, where one is available, in priority to other employees who are also at risk of redundancy. They do not need to apply for the vacancy, nor must they undertake a competitive interview process. However, this protection does not currently apply to pregnant employees who have not yet started their maternity leave, nor does it apply to those who have recently returned to work from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.
The government has now stated that it will:
- 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 (and it is expected this period will start immediately once maternity leave is finished, notwithstanding any additional leave which may immediately follow)
- Extend the redundancy protection into a period of return to work for those taking adoption leave, following the same approach being provided for those returning from maternity leave, i.e. protection for six months
- Extend the redundancy protection into a period of return to work for those taking shared parental leave, taking account of the following key principles and issues: (a) the key objective of the policy is to protect pregnant women and new mothers from discrimination; (b) the practical and legal differences between shared parental leave and maternity leave mean that it will require a different approach; (c) the period of extended protection should be proportionate to the amount of leave and the threat of discrimination; (d) a mother should be no worse off if she curtails her maternity leave and then takes a period of shared parental leave; and (e) the solution should not create any disincentives to take shared parental leave. The government will therefore consult further on the design of this protection over the coming months
- Establish a taskforce of employer and family representative groups to make recommendations on what improvements can be made to the information available to employers and families on pregnancy and maternity discrimination. It will also develop an action plan on what steps the government and other organisations can take to make it easier for pregnant women and new mothers to stay in work.