Managing pregnancy and parental leave

Katherine Maxwell sets out key guidance to help employers ensure their procedures are fair and transparent

In recent months, there has been heightened public awareness of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) being used in maternity and paternity-related situations in the workplace to prevent employees discussing their experiences. While recent studies suggest that three in four mothers have experienced some form of maternity or pregnancy discrimination each year, many feel they cannot speak out about their experiences because they have signed an NDA as part of their settlement agreement.  

The Equality Act 2010 protects a wide range of individuals within the field of employment, occupation and vocational training. Despite this, parental discrimination continues to happen, and the use of NDAs is restricting open and honest discussions, making it less transparent and difficult to eradicate discrimination. 

Proposed employment law changes   

Proposed changes by the government include banning the use of NDAS in situations involving potential discrimination, extending redundancy protections for new parents and introducing flexible parental leave alongside pay transparency.

 As an employer, it’s essential to be ahead of the curve and really understand how these proposed changes, particularly in relation to NDAs, may affect the company and its current policies.    

Being the proactive, considerate employer

Employees on parental leave should be consulted over a range of relevant matters in the workplace. When an employee is due to come back to work, they can feel isolated or cut off from the office culture and be anxious about returning to their role.  

It’s essential that those on leave are still informed of key updates or information that’s relevant to them. This can include any proposed reorganisations, business changes and internal vacancies within the company. Encouraging employees to use their ‘keep in touch’ days is a positive step. But remembering to regularly communicate with them as an employer even if that is just via email is better than nothing.

There are interesting court cases that demonstrate exactly how important it is to consider how these updates are communicated with employees on parental leave. Take the case Visa International Service Association v Paul, where the tribunal criticised an employer that had failed to notify an employee while she was on maternity leave of a newly created job post that she was interested in and felt she would be a good candidate for. Failure to ensure that women on maternity leave are informed of any opportunities for promotion and transfer may give rise to discrimination claims.

It’s important for employers to ensure that their employees are thought of in all situations. It can be easy to assume that for parents taking leave, work may be the last thing on their minds, but in fact many parents are now keen to think about their next steps when they return to the office.  

The lack of diversity that is fostered when working parents are unable to return to employment will hurt any business, no matter its size. Creating a diverse workforce that is flexible to its employees benefits all and there are plenty of flexible policy arrangements out there for new parents and employees to adopt. Although there are bigger problems with societal views, companies should focus on what’s in their power to change and be the proactive players in this area for the benefit of their employees and their business as a whole. 

Katherine Maxwell is a partner and head of employment at Moore Blatch Solicitors