The government has launched a new consultation on plans to extend the redundancy protection for pregnant women and new mothers, so that it continues for six months after parents return to work from maternity and other extended family leave.
The government announced that research commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) found that one in nine women said they had been dismissed or made redundant when they returned to work after having a child, or were treated so badly they felt forced out of their job. The same research revealed that as many as 54,000 women a year may lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity.
Currently, all employees on maternity leave are afforded some protection from redundancy - they have an automatic right to be offered any suitable alternative employment that is available with the employer (or an associated employer). The consultation seeks views on whether to extend this right for up to six months after employees return to work from maternity leave. The government sees this as the simplest way of achieving additional protection and creating a more consistent approach – so mothers who have recently returned to work have the same protection as those on maternity leave.
The consultation will also consider the impact of extending this redundancy protection to others who have taken extended family leave, such as those returning from adoption and shared parental leave.
The consultation closes on 5 April 2019.
If these proposals are implemented, employers planning a redundancy process would need to ensure they have identified any maternity returners and other parents who have returned to work within the last six months, and that they are given first refusal on any suitable alternative roles.
It is unlikely that extending the period of prioritisation for maternity returners will be particularly burdensome for employers administratively. But significantly for employers, this proposal will inevitably mean that there will be more redundancy processes where they may not be able to offer suitable alternative roles to the best candidates. That said, this proposal adds no protection for maternity returners where no suitable alternative role is available, which is very often the case.