Redundancy ban to be considered for new mothers



Women and equalities committee report calls on government to strengthen protection from discrimination

Pregnant women and new mothers could be entitled to additional protection from redundancy if new government proposals go ahead.

A redundancy ban, whereby firms would be unable to make women redundant during pregnancy, maternity leave or for six months after they return to work, is being considered in response to thewomen and equalities committee’s August report on workplace pregnancy discrimination.

The report called on the government to follow Germany’s lead in granting more protections for women who were pregnant or had returned from maternity leave, after research conducted as part of the report revealed that cases of pregnancy-related discrimination had doubled in the last decade, with current figures standing at 54,000.

Emma Burrows, partner at law firm Trowers & Hamlins, warned that a redundancy ban may make it difficult for companies that were already undergoing redundancy and restructuring programmes. She said: “This proposal to give women better protection from redundancy, while laudable, does however restrict the ability of employers to carry out fair redundancy exercises treating all employees equally, when they must take into account additional protection for mothers. A strengthening of these rights could mean that employers will have to further manage conflict in the workplace.”

David Southall, employment law consultant at ELAS, said: “Trying to legislate for what the report classes as ‘bad treatment’, which falls outside of current legislation, may be a fraught exercise. Rights may be described in such vague terms as to be meaningless, or so subjective that employers will not know where they stand.”

The government and EHRC-commissioned report, which was published in August last year, made a series of recommendations including strengthening existing protections for pregnant women and ensuring women and employers understand their rights and obligations through improved access to information.

Responding to the report, Margot James MP said the government was making “good progress” towards implementing the recommendations and pledged a continued commitment to tackling pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination, but insisted there was “strong” legal framework already in place.

“The fact that women face discrimination in the workplace as a result of pregnancy or for taking maternity leave is wholly unacceptable and unlawful. It is shocking that some employers still behave in this way and alienate a key group of their workforce,” she said.

“We are determined to build an economy that works for everyone. This includes ensuring that pregnant women and new mothers are supported in work, where they have made that choice, and that they are treated fairly.”

But Maria Miller, chair of the committee, described the government’s response as “a missed opportunity” to display real commitment and found there was a “worrying enforcement gap” with the current law.

She said: “The government’s own research, done in collaboration with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has shown not only that pregnancy and maternity discrimination is a significant problem, but a problem that is getting worse. This is why it is so disappointing that the government is not showing more energy and resolve in tackling it.”

Sarah Jackson OBE, chief executive of Working Families, added: “The government must make it clear that a six-month time limit for pregnancy and maternity employment tribunal claims should be the norm. The onus for asking for an extension cannot rest with women who have been discriminated against.”

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