The Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill is expected to receive its final reading in the House of Lords imminently, and should be passed into law soon.
The bill aims to extend current protections from redundancy for expectant and new mothers, and introduce new protections for those taking and returning from adoption and shared parental leave.
Currently, the law only offers limited protection from redundancy to women while they are on maternity leave. This comes in the form of a legal obligation on employers to offer suitable alternative employment to women on maternity leave in preference to other staff, if their role is placed at risk of redundancy, assuming vacancies exist. However, this obligation does not apply before maternity leave begins or after it ends.
Under the bill, the government is proposing to extend this protection from redundancy for expectant mothers to apply from the point they tell their employer they are pregnant, until 18 months after giving birth. In addition, the bill grants parents taking adoption and shared parental leave the same protection from redundancy while they are on leave, and for a period after they return to work. However, the protection period has not yet been determined for those scenarios.
By introducing these changes, the bill seeks to reduce the disadvantage – and often discriminatory treatment – suffered by pregnant women and new parents returning to work. It is arguably a step in the right direction but some have questioned whether it goes far enough to address the challenges faced by expectant mothers and new parents in the workplace.
Many new parents find adjusting back to working life challenging. Balancing the needs of work against increased demands at home, while still potentially suffering with sleep deprivation and perinatal mental health issues, all too often results in new parents feeling pushed out or leaving through burnout. This is a time when employees need support and flexibility.
Employers can help by developing a culture committed to supporting new parents in returning to work. Setting up a working parents employee resource group is a good place to start, and can be an invaluable tool in developing and maintaining a parent-friendly workplace culture.
Putting in place parent-friendly policies and practices reflecting the real needs of working parents is also essential. The benefits to a business of implementing flexible working policies and practices, which encourage agile and flexible working and provide solutions to the challenges faced by expectant mothers and new parents, should not be underestimated.
Employers should also review existing family-friendly policies to ensure these offer adequate support. Many employers are now offering enhanced parental and dependant leave policies, giving food for thought for future developments.
Michelle Hobbs is a senior associate at Stevens and Bolton