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Government issues response to pregnancy and maternity consultation

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Continuing with the running theme of government consultations that have emerged over the course of July, the government last week released its response to the consultation on pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The consultation, which ran from 25 January 2019 to 5 April 2019, focused on extending redundancy protection for pregnant women and new parents, and came off the back of research by BEIS (published in 2016) that demonstrated pregnancy and maternity discrimination is still far too prevalent in the workplace. The consultation looked at three main issues:

  • whether redundancy protection should be extended into the period of “return to work”;
  • whether similar protections should be given to other groups who take extended periods of leave, such as adoption or shared parental leave; and
  • whether the government could take steps that more effectively tackle pregnancy discrimination by increasing business and employer awareness.

Results of the consultation

There were 105 responses to the consultation directly concerned with the three issues above. The two key findings from those responses were (i) that the majority of respondents agreed six months would be an adequate period of “return to work” for redundancy protection purposes and (ii) that the protection should be extended to parents who have taken other forms of parental leave, such as adoption leave and shared parental leave.

There were also issues on enforcement raised in the consultation and on questions of tribunal time limits. However, the government does not address them in its response and plans to consult further to explore the evidence on these issues.

What does the government propose to do?

In its response paper the government proposes to do the following as a result of the feedback received:

  • extend the redundancy protection period for six months once a new mother has returned to work;
  • afford the same protection to those taking adoption leave; and
  • extend redundancy protection for those returning from shared parental leave. However, the response acknowledged that shared parental leave worked differently to maternity and adoption leave in that there was increased flexibility and this could cause some issues. The government will consider this when designing the new protection.

Interestingly, the government’s response confirmed that paternity leave does not justify equal treatment to maternity leave when it comes to redundancy protection as the protection is in place for employees who are returning to work after a long absence.

The government will now work with stakeholders to develop a workable solution and look to bring forward legislation when Parliamentary time allows. So, although immediate change is not on the horizon, it is something for employers to keep on their radar.