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Protection from redundancy during maternity leave

kalra blog pregnancy

Business Department research has suggested 54,000 women may lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity a year. To tackle this on-going problem, earlier this year the Government announced a consultation considering extending protection against redundancy for pregnant women for an extended period of six months after they return to work.

What current legal protection is there for pregnancy and maternity?

The main legal protection for pregnancy and maternity comes from two pieces of legislation: The Equality Act 2010 and the Maternity Leave and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 (‘MAPLE’).

Under S. 17 and S.18 of the Equality Act 2010, the legislation makes specific provisions against pregnancy and maternity discrimination. This protects women from ‘unfavourable treatment’ because of pregnancy (or because of an illness suffered as a result of pregnancy) throughout their protected period. Pregnant women are also protected from ‘unfavourable treatment’ where they are on compulsory maternity leave or if they have taken or are taking ordinary or additional maternity leave.

Some examples of ‘unfavourable treatment’ include dismissal, demotion and denial of training or promotion opportunities. The protected period begins when the pregnancy starts and it finishes when she returns to work from ordinary or additional maternity leave, or two weeks at the end of the pregnancy if she is not entitled to maternity leave.

Under S. 11 of the Equality Act 2010, Sex is listed as a protected characteristic. In summary, the definition includes reference to a man or to a woman. Under Part 2, Chapter 2 of the Equality Act 2010 various forms of prohibited conduct are outlined, including direct discrimination and indirect discrimination in relation to sex. This protection can be utilised in combination with pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

S. 10 of MAPLE provides specific protection against redundancy for pregnant employees. Where a pregnant employee is made redundant during ordinary or additional maternity leave, their employer has a duty to offer the employee suitable available vacancy (where available) as a priority over other employees.

What changes are being proposed?

Business Department research has found that one in nine women have been dismissed, made redundant, or felt forced out when they returned to work after childbirth. Research conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found around one in twenty (6%) of mothers were made redundant at some point during pregnancy, maternity leave or on return from maternity leave. The Government’s proposals aim to tackle this problem by increasing the protection surrounding redundancy.

The current proposal is to extent the current protection against redundancy provided under MAPLE for a six month period after returning to work. This means a pregnant employee made redundant within a six month period after returning to work would be offered a suitable alternative vacancy over other employees.

What other help is there for pregnant women?

The proposed changes are a step in the right direction, however they only propose to extend protection against redundancy for an additional six months. They do not aid pregnant women or new mothers in other problematic situations, such as dismissal or handling health and safety issues.

Therefore, it is vital that pregnant women are aware of their rights, especially from the onset of pregnancy. The MAT B1 form which enables pregnant women to claim for maternity pay now includes a link to advice and guidance on employment rights for pregnant women and new mothers.

Many pregnant women and new mothers are prevented from bringing a claim by the three month time limit imposed by the Employment Tribunal. An example of this is the story of Ms Rees, who’s employer “ignored her e-mails and calls” when she was on maternity leave, and eventually she was made redundant but did not bring a claim due to the time limit. Therefore, it is crucial that pregnant women and new mothers seek advice as early as possible when encountering any problems at work as a result of pregnancy.

The Women and Equalities Select Committee have suggested this three month time limit should be extended to six months. In response, the Government have stated Employment Tribunals already have the ability to extend the time limit where it is “just and equitable”. Data collected by the HM Courts and Tribunal Service for out of time applications for pregnancy and maternity discrimination cases between January and June 2018 has shown 25 cases were accepted for late submission, and zero were rejected.

What more can an employer do?

A big cause of maternity and pregnancy discrimination is that some employer’s are unaware of how to conduct themselves when an employee is pregnant and their legal obligations. This can result in the pregnant employee suffering unfavourable treatment and potential legal action against the employer. For example, BEIS/EHRC research conducted in 2016 found one in four employers felt it was reasonable during recruitment to ask women about their future plans to have children. This worrying result is a good example of some employer’s being unaware of how to handle pregnancy.

ACAS have published guidance called “pregnancy and maternity discrimination: key points for the workplace”, which offers guidance on how to reduce the change of pregnancy or maternity discrimination from occurring in the workplace. It is a useful tool for employers to determine how to respond to pregnancy related situations, for example managing absences during pregnancy.

Contact Us

At Kalra Legal Group we help both employers and employees with pregnancy and maternity situations. Our Managing Director Anita Kalra has extensive experience in representing women suffering sex and maternity discrimination, as well as with aiding employers with handling maternity leave and other pregnancy related situations in the workplace.

She is currently offering a free face to face consultation for mothers returning to work facing sex discrimination or/and pregnancy and maternity discrimination. To book a free consultation contact our team today.

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Returning to work after maternity leave

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