Consultation on greater redundancy protections for returning parents

Employees are currently able to enjoy a number of protections during a period of maternity leave, including the right not to be selected for redundancy on the basis of their pregnancy. These protections could be set to increase in the future as an ongoing public consultation asks whether these provisions should be extended for a further 6 months after an employee returns to work.

This announcement comes in response to research conducted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) which found that one in nine women who have taken time off to have a baby have either lost their jobs, or been forced to leave them, following their return to work. The BEIS study revealed that most departures occurred either by way of redundancy or due to the impact of overwhelming negative attitudes as a result of their absence.

The consultation calls on workers, employers and legal professionals to provide their opinions on whether working mothers should be given priority over other employees in a redundancy situation when it comes to offering suitable alternative employment. This is a right that is currently afforded to employees on maternity leave, however the government are proposing that this should be extended, beginning at the point that a woman informs her employer of her pregnancy in writing and lasting until 6 months after she returns from maternity leave. There is also the question of whether the same rights should be granted to parents returning from adoption leave or shared parental leave.

This consultation shares similarities with recent efforts to improve the rights of vulnerable employees at work. This includes the right to paid parental bereavement leave, which is scheduled for 2020, and the right for workers in insecure employment to request more stable contracts.

With the consultation set to end on 5th April 2019, the government’s response could have a significant impact on the way that organisations manage employees returning to work from family friendly leave in the future. Redundancy situations can be complex at the best of times, and given the potential for extra protections it will be vital to be able to fully explain the reason behind any termination decisions.

It should be noted that even if the protection is extended it will not be impossible to make employees redundant either during, or immediately after they return from maternity leave. However, in these circumstances employers will need to meet their legal obligations in terms of offering suitable work and be able to show that the decision was not based on the individual’s pregnancy.

The Equality Act 2010 states that it is unlawful to discriminate against women on the grounds of maternity or pregnancy. Therefore, those who attempt to use ‘sham’ redundancies to dismiss returning mothers could face the prospect of having to pay out unlimited compensation at a tribunal, including additional funds for injury to feelings.

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