Government Consultation to extend Maternity Rights
The Government has launched a consultation following the report of the Women and Equalities Select Committee in 2016 and the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. The consultation seeks views on extending the existing redundancy protections available to women during maternity leave into return on work.
There are two important pieces of legislation when it comes to pregnancy and maternity rights: the Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”) and the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations (1999) (“MAPLE”). ACAS published guidance in November 2017 entitled “Pregnancy and maternity discrimination: key points for the workplace” to help employers understand their statutory obligations and employees their rights. It is illegal under the Act to discriminate against a person because they are (or are not) a particular sex. Pregnancy is a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Act.
The Act provides for a ‘protected period’ during which women who are pregnant or have recently given birth are explicitly protected from discrimination. This period runs from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until she returns to work following either ordinary or additional maternity leave or two weeks after the end of pregnancy (if there is no entitlement to maternity leave).
During the ‘protected period’, a woman is protected from discrimination which arises as a result of her pregnancy, any illness related to her pregnancy or absence because of that illness, being on compulsory maternity leave or taking or seeking to take ordinary or additional maternity leave. Once the protected period ends, it is still unlawful to treat a woman less favourably because of her pregnancy, maternity or breastfeeding.
Before an employer makes redundancies, Regulation 10 of MAPLE obliges them to offer a suitable alternative vacancy (where one is available). It is important that any role offered is not on ‘substantially less favorable’ terms than the employee’s previous role.
Proposals for Reform
It has been proposed that existing redundancy protection should be extended to follow a mother’s return to work. The Women and Equalities Select Committee has suggested that this period should be for six months.
Another question the consultation seeks to tackle is whether redundancy protection should be extended to those who have leave akin to maternity such as adoption leave or shared parental leave.
The consultation also asks for views regarding extending the tribunal time limit. Currently, an employee has three months from the date of the discriminatory act taking palace to bring a claim at an Employment Tribunal for pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The proposal is that the time limit be extended to six months and the #GiveMeSix petition set up by Joeli Brearley, has to date secured over 56,000 signatures.
Have your say
The consultation closes at 11:45pm on 5 April 2019.
To have your say, visit https://beisgovuk.citizenspace.com/lm/redundancy-protection-for-women-new-mothers/.
If you have any concerns regarding maternity rights, please contact our Employment Team for advice.