28 February 2019

Government has outlined new proposals to protect pregnant women and new parents in redundancy situations

The government has launched a consultation seeking views on new proposals to extend redundancy protection for pregnant women and new parents, which follows recommendations made in the 2017 ‘Good Work Review’ by Matthew Taylor.

Background

At present, women who are on a period of maternity leave have additional protection in redundancy situations.

The law provides that, in a redundancy situation, where an employee is “at risk” of redundancy and is not on maternity leave, an employer is required to consider whether there are any suitable alternative positions available (as an alternative to making an employee redundant) and give the employee an opportunity to apply for any such positions.

For women on a period of maternity leave, employers have an obligation to offer them (rather than just inviting them to apply for) a suitable alternative vacancy where one is available and they are “at risk” of redundancy. They do not need to apply for the vacancy or go through a competitive interview process. This effectively gives women on maternity leave a priority right over other employees who are also “at risk” of redundancy.

If an employer fails to comply with this obligation, any subsequent dismissal will be automatically unfair.

Currently, this obligation only arises in connection with women on maternity leave: if the woman has returned to work or has not yet gone on maternity leave, her employer is not under this strict obligation to offer her a suitable available vacancy in priority to others.

For many years, concerns have been raised that too many women are “forced out of work” when they return following a period of maternity leave. Research, commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, found that one in nine women said they had been fired or made redundant when they returned to work after having a child, or they were treated so badly that they felt forced out of work.

The proposed reforms

In an effort to reduce the risk of possible discrimination, the government has proposed extending this protection to pregnant women and women who have recently returned to work after a period of maternity leave.

The government is also seeking views on whether parents returning to work from adoption, shared parental and unpaid parental leave should also be granted additional protection in a redundancy situation.

Further detail on the proposals, are available within the consultation paper.

The consultation process closes on 5 April 2019 and we will keep you updated as matters progress in this area.

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About the Author
Hannah Wilding, Solicitor
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