A bill to protect pregnant employees and new mothers from redundancy backed by government
On 3 February 2023, the Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill, which seeks to extend protection against redundancy to pregnant employees and those returning to work after maternity leave, moved one step closer to becoming law after it was passed through the House of Commons. The next, and final step, is for it to be passed through the House of Lords.
What changes are proposed?
If passed, the Bill will extend the protection from redundancy currently afforded to employees on maternity/adoption or shared parental leave (“family leave”) to pregnant women and those who have recently returned from family leave.
At present, the law says that, where an employee on family leave is at risk of redundancy, the employer is under an obligation to offer that employee any suitable alternative vacancy that exists, in priority over other employees. Under the new Bill, this protection will be extended to pregnant employees, from the date they tell their employer they are pregnant and to employees returning from family leave for a period of 6 months after their date of return.
Why do we need a change to the law?
The government-backed Bill is aimed at providing greater protection to pregnant women and new parents who, statistically, are more vulnerable to redundancy and have less job security generally. It sadly remains the case that employees who are about to take family leave, on family leave or are returning from family leave are often the most likely to be put out of a job where an employer needs to make cut-backs.
The intention of the new law is to try and shield expectant mothers and new parents from unfair or, worse, discriminatory treatment because they are pregnant or returned recently from family leave and to give them more job security.
Will it make a difference?
It is definitely a step in the right direction but, for some groups, the change is not enough. The charity, Pregnant then Screwed, were sceptical as to whether it will make a real difference. The charity cited the fact that very few women who have been unfairly treated or discriminated against due to pregnancy or maternity leave pursue a tribunal claim against their employer because of the expense and the 3-month time limit that applies to most claims.
What will the changes mean for employers?
Employers will need to be vigilant when considering workplace redundancies to ensure that any employees at risk who are entitled to redundancy protection are afforded priority over other candidates for suitable alternative vacancies. A failure to do so could result in the employee’s dismissal being automatically unfair and could also give rise to claims of pregnancy or maternity discrimination.
Employers will also need to ensure that any managers involved in carrying out the redundancy selection and consultation process are aware of the rights and special protection that pregnant employees, those on and those recently returned from family leave have and that the process is carried out fairly, consistently and in accordance with the employer’s legal obligations.
When will it become law?
The Bill is due to go through the House of Lords next and so it is unlikely that, if passed, the changes will come into force this year so we are probably looking at 2024, or even 2025.