In a welcome break from the current topical news items, the Government released a statement last week indicating that they were proposing to “extend legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women for six months after they return to work.”
The law currently makes it unlawful to dismiss a woman because of pregnancy or maternity which would be discriminatory, but there is no such protection to prevent a pregnant employee from being dismissed for some other reason – in this case, redundancy, so this headline had considerable ramifications.
Upon further review of the Government’s plans however, it is clear that they are proposing to ‘extend’ the legal protection, i.e. merely widening an existing protection.
The existing law requires a woman being made redundant during maternity leave to be offered alternative work when there is a suitable available vacancy. The Government is proposing to extend that right so that it begins when the women informs her employer that she is pregnant and continues to apply for six months after her return. The proposal also suggests making similar changes for employees taking shared parental leave and adoption leave.
It is a sensible reform and one which is helpful, but this is not a watershed moment. The proposal would not prevent a woman from being included in the redundancy process when she was pregnant, on maternity leave, or recently returned. It would simply mean that the employer would be obliged to offer her suitable alternative work, if this existed. In reality, this is not much of a change. It would only have an effect when the redundancy is part of a wider exercise in which a number of people are being made redundant and there is a limited number of suitable alternative vacancies available. In this scenario, the pregnant employee would be bumped to the front of the taxi rank in effect.
The consultation will close on 5 April 2019 and we will update you with any further developments, although, the Government may be preoccupied with some other topical issues around this time. If you have any queries about how the current legislation applies you can get in touch with your dedicated advisor today.