Returning to work after maternity leave can be a daunting prospect for new mums, and it is important for them to feel that they will be valued and supported upon their return. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many women. A recent study by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found that one in nine returning to work after maternity leave were fired, made redundant, or treated in a manner which forced them to leave their job. The study also found that as many as 54,000 women per year are losing their jobs as a result of their pregnancy or maternity leave.
With Brexit fast approaching, Theresa May is said to be “determined to do even more as we leave the EU”, including by building on the current EU requirements on maternity and paternity leave protection.
The government is now seeking views on plans to help protect new mums returning to work from the risk of redundancy. Currently, new mothers have additional protection in redundancy situations arising during maternity leave. If their position is made redundant during maternity leave they are entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy (if available) in priority over other affected employees. The new proposals are that this protection is extended so as to cover the period of pregnancy and a period after of up to 6 months from their return to work.
As more parents choose to share care equally, the consultation is also seeking views on whether similar protection should be offered to parents upon their return from adoption leave or shared parental leave.
However, there are concerns that such moves could be considered “positive discrimination” and will increase the risk of redundancy for those not on or returning from maternity leave.
The consultation will close on 5 April 2019. If you would like to take part in this open consultation, please see the following link:
In the meantime, employers should ensure that, when carrying out a redundancy process, they do not treat those on maternity leave unfairly, or in a manner that could give rise to a discrimination claim.