At the end of January 2019, the Government launched a consultation which proposes plans to boost the protection given during redundancy to pregnant women and new parents returning to work. Under the current law, before making an employee on maternity leave redundant, employers are under an obligation to offer them a suitable alternative vacancy where one is available. They are therefore given priority over other employees who are also at risk of redundancy.
Under the new proposals, this protection could be extended so that it also applies during pregnancy, and continues for up to six months after a mother’s return to work from maternity leave. Six months reflects the Government’s provisional view that this is a sufficient period to allow a new mother to re-establish herself in the workplace. The consultation is also seeking views on offering a similar protection on return to work for other groups who take extended periods of leave for similar purposes, e.g. shared parental leave or adoption leave.
There are a number of questions that the Government will need to grapple with before any such changes are implemented. For example, when would the protection on a return to work period commence if maternity leave is followed immediately by a period of annual leave, as is common in practice?
This consultation has been launched in response to a commitment the Government made in response to the Taylor Review, which was released in July 2017, and the proposed measure would go further than what is currently required under European Law. It also comes after research commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found that one in nine women said they were dismissed when returning to work after having a child, or felt forced out.
The consultation is due to end at the beginning of April 2019, so watch this space.