Pregnancy and maternity leave should be a time where parents can prepare for and enjoy the arrival of their child. However, for one in four expectant mothers, this is marred by the anxiety of telling their employer, due to a fear of unfairly being made redundant.
Despite pregnancy and maternity being a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, new parents are currently only protected from redundancy during maternity, shared parental or adoption leave. Employers who want to offer redundancy to new parents on leave must instead first consider suitable alternative positions for them. In this context, suitable refers to a job that could not be considered substantially worse than the employee’s current position. This does not currently protect pregnant women from being made redundant in the build up to maternity leave or as soon as they return to work.
The proposed bill
The UK government has recently backed The Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Bill, which was proposed by Dan Jarvis MP. Under the bill proposed by Jarvis, the redundancy protection will be extended, to apply from the moment that a pregnant employee informs their employer, until 18 months after she has given birth. Similarly, the extension will be applied for employees returning from shared parental leave or adoption leave.
Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis, who proposed the bill, commented:
“At the heart of this Bill are tens of thousands of women pushed out of the workforce each year simply for being pregnant. I’m proud this new legislation will go some way to providing pregnant women and new mums greater protections in the workplace. I want to thank all those who’ve supported the Bill and I look forward to working with them to ensure it passes into law.”
The bill has passed each applicable stage through the House of Commons, and is currently awaiting a second reading before the House of Lords on 3rd March 2023. Following this, the bill will hopefully progress through the Committee stage, Report stage and Third reading, before reaching the final stages of Consideration of amendments and then Royal Assent.
Speaking on the pregnancy and family leave bill, the Business Minister, Dean Russell, explained:
“By extending the UK’s world class workplace protections, today’s reforms will help to remove workplace discrimination and provide improved job security for employees at such an important and precious time in their lives.”
What does this mean for the workplace?
At the moment, 54,000 women a year feel they have to leave their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity discrimination. It’s hoped that the new bill will make it less intimidating for pregnant employees to share the news with their employer, and will be an overall step forward for fighting discrimination in the workplace. The bill will also hopefully be a breakthrough for women as it will become more accessible to balance newfound motherhood with a career.
Although the bill is still under review, it would be a good idea for employers to begin working on their new maternity leave policy, ensuring that they are equipped to align the company’s policies with new regulations when the time comes. In turn, this could help to improve employers’ relationships with their employees, as it sets out a clear message of support to the workforce.
Eleanor Taylor, People and Culture Manager at EKW Group explained how;
“Having extra protection while on maternity leave will give families more peace of mind, so that they are able to make the most of the joyful time with their new addition.”
It should however also be noted, that the new Bill is not a law against making pregnant employees or those on maternity leave redundant. Employers must take into account, though, that the bill acknowledges how often maternity-related discrimination can occur in the thought processes behind offering redundancy to employees.
If you would like further advice about sensitively supporting your employees throughout their pregnancy or family leave, please feel free to reach out to Eleanor Taylor at [email protected].
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