A consultation paper released by the government today marks the first step in plans to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new parents. The paper is welcomed amidst research suggesting that 77% of working mothers have had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave and/or their return from maternity leave.
Women on maternity leave are currently afforded special protections from redundancy whereby employers are required to offer them a suitable alternative vacancy where one is available, effectively giving them priority over other redundant employees. The proposed changes to the law would mean that these same protections would extend to women within 6 months of maternity leave and women who have informed their employer that they are pregnant. The aim is to challenge the 'status quo' of employers automatically offering redundancy to women in these circumstances over other employees.
The proposed changes will make the UK one of the more progressive nations in terms of protections for our working and expectant mothers. Our Australian counterparts for example do not afford women on maternity leave any specific protection from redundancy. Although their discrimination laws are more extensive than the UK and specifically protect against discrimination based on "pregnancy", "breastfeeding", "family or carer's responsibilities" and "parental status", proving discrimination particularly while on maternity leave, is notoriously difficult.
On the other hand, the UK falls short when compared to Germany which does not allow an employer to dismiss a woman during pregnancy without first securing consent from the relevant public authorities. The consultation paper acknowledges that the German system would be somewhat out of kilter with the UK's labour rights system and the current proposal seeks to find an appropriate balance.
Consultation closes on 5 April 2019 and if the changes are subsequently introduced it will be an important consideration for many employers restructuring their business post Brexit.