Earlier this year the Equalities and Human Rights Commission made a number of recommendations about how pregnancy and maternity discrimination, uncovered by joint research with the government, should be tackled. The government’s response accepted in principle most of the recommendations, but did not set out any specific targets or timelines.
In the light of this, the Women and Equalities Committee launched its inquiry. The conclusion of its strongly worded Report is that the government needs to take urgent action in a wide range of areas, including:
- Within the next two years, the government should legislate so that new and expectant mothers can be made redundant only in specified circumstances. The Report recommends a system, similar to that in Germany, under which employees can be made redundant only in very exceptional cases, such as liquidation. This protection should apply throughout pregnancy/maternity leave and for six months afterwards.
- Employers should be required to undertake an individual risk assessment when they are informed that a worker is pregnant, has given birth in the past six months or is breastfeeding. (At present the requirement is for employers to deal with any risks identified in their general risk assessment.) The Health and Safety Executive should include this requirement in its guidance to employers by the end of this year.
- There should also be a formal mechanism by which an employee can ask a doctor or midwife to confirm that specific risks at work need to be dealt with. The government should commit to implementing this by the end of 2017.
- The right to paid time off for antenatal appointments (currently available to employees and agency workers after 12 weeks' work) should be extended to workers, after a short qualifying period. This should be introduced within the next year.
- The government should review the other pregnancy and maternity-related rights not currently available to workers (including maternity leave, protection against unfair dismissal and the right to request flexible working) and legislate (within two years) to give greater parity between workers and employees.
- The three-month time limit for bringing a tribunal claim in maternity and pregnancy discrimination cases should be reviewed – the Report suggests a six month limit – and tribunal fees should be substantially reduced. The Report urges the government to publish the findings of its review into the impact of the introduction of tribunal fees "as matter of urgency".