The consultation forms part of the government’s response to the Taylor Review and follows concerns raised by the Pregnancy and maternity discrimination report, published by the Women and Equalities Select Committee in August 2016, which found that women are encountering discrimination after having children and are being forced out of work when they seek to return.
Currently, if a woman on maternity leave is selected for redundancy she must be offered, and not just given the right to apply for, a suitable alternative role with her employer or an associated employer, if one is available. This right takes priority over legal rights of the other redundant employees. Where there is a dismissal and an employer has failed to comply with such obligations, they may be faced with claims for automatic unfair dismissal or discrimination.
Should the government’s proposals be implemented, they will enhance protections for returning mothers for up to six months after returning to work; however, these will not prevent working mothers from being made redundant or being selected for redundancy where their colleagues are also at risk of redundancy.
The proposals will, however, require employers to give first refusal to these protected employees where alternative vacancies are available at the time. This will be of particular importance to those employers that are part of a large corporate group, because the duty to offer alternative employment extends to roles with associated employers.
This is an interesting proposal that could see the UK going further than the current EU requirements on maternity entitlements and parental leave. If implemented, employers will need to be mindful of the increased protection afforded to pregnant women and new parents when conducting redundancy exercises.
Gurdeep Boparai is an employment law expert at Howes Percival