Be Aware UK: Response to consultation on extending workplace protection for pregnant women and new parents

The government’s last-minute flurry of legislative activity looks set to continue right up to the parliamentary summer recess; today the government has issued its response to consultation on extending workplace protection for pregnant women and new parents as part of the Good Work Plan.

Research by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in 2016 indicated that over 75% of new mothers had had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy or maternity leave or on their return to work. The 2017 Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices recommended consolidation of the protections for pregnant women and new parents to make it easier for businesses and individuals to understand their rights. In early 2019 the government consulted on proposals to extend redundancy protection. The response to that consultation has now been published. The government is now committing to:

  • Ensure that the period during which pregnant women benefit from redundancy protection applies from the point the employee informs the employer that she is pregnant;
  • Extend the redundancy protection period for 6 months once a new mother has returned to work from maternity leave;
  • Extend redundancy protection for a 6 month period following return to work for those taking adoption leave; and
  • Extent redundancy protection into a period following return to work for those taking shared parental leave, proportionate to the leave taken and the threat of discrimination.

Currently women have special protection against redundancy under regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave Etc Regulations 1999 which provides that where it is not reasonably practicable due to redundancy for an employer to continue to employ a woman who is on maternity leave, where there is a suitable alternative vacancy she is entitled to be offered that alternative employment. ¬†This protection will be significantly extended in the case of pregnant women and adopters. However, the response to consultation notes that shared parental leave works differently in that it can be taken for short periods on a number of occasions, which means that a standard period of protection on return to work may not be appropriate. The government proposes that parents taking shared parental leave should benefit from ‘some’ protection from redundancy but that this should be proportionate to the amount of leave taken and the threat of discrimination. It is not clear yet how this will work in practice and the effect may be to further complicate the already complex shared parental leave regime, potentially undermining the government’s objective to improve shared parental leave as stated in the consultation paper published on 19 July.

The government is consulting separately on whether to change employment tribunal limits relating to discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

The response to consultation does not give any indication of when the proposed changes are intended to come into force.