The UK government has today issued a consultation on “extending redundancy protection for women and new parents”.
The government’s proposals would mean that pregnant women and women who have recently returned to work after a period of maternity leave have the same protection as women on maternity leave in a redundancy situation. The government’s provisional view is that six months would be an appropriate period of “return to work” protection.
As the law currently stands, a woman whose job becomes redundant during her maternity leave period is entitled to be offered (as opposed to merely having the opportunity to apply for) a suitable available vacancy, where one is available with the employer (or an associated employer). 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. The employer is, however, still under an obligation to take reasonable steps to find her alternative employment, as would be the case with other potentially redundant employees. Similar protection applies to parents on adoption leave or shared parental 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.
The government has launched this consultation in response to concerns that too many women encounter discrimination after having children and are “forced out of work” when they seek to return. Research commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) found that 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 to leave their job.
We would be interested to hear your views on the government’s proposals. We will be preparing a short survey on the key questions raised by the government and will share this with you ahead of the consultation closing on 5 April 2019.