New mothers to get extended redundancy protection under government proposal

25 Jan 2019 By Maggie Baska

But experts say proposed changes do not address underlying issues around maternity and pregnancy discrimination

Pregnant women and parents returning to work will receive greater protection from redundancy under plans for new legislation unveiled yesterday. 

The government announced it would begin consulting on extending legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women for six months after they return to work.

The 10-week consultation recommends maternity and parental leave (MAPLE) regulations be extended to cover a six-month period after a new mother returns to work. It could potentially also be applied to others, including men, who return from adoption leave or shared parental leave.

Prime minister Theresa May said it was “unacceptable” many parents “still encounter difficulties when returning to work”, and the move would show “the UK is going even further in its commitment to workers’ rights and meeting the challenges of the changing world of work”.

Business minister Kelly Tolhurst said the government wanted to build an economy which ensured everyone could progress at work. 

“Some new mothers still find unacceptable attitudes on their return to work which effectively forces them out of their jobs,” Tolhurst said. “That’s why we are looking at ways to further protect new parents by giving them time to re-establish themselves in the workplace and show the value they bring to their employers.”

Under current regulations, if redundancies are being made, employers have an obligation to offer those on maternity or shared parental leave a “suitable alternative vacancy” where one is available, giving these employees priority over others who are also at risk of redundancy. However, this provision ends when an individual returns to work.

The consultation cited research commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) that found one in nine (11 per cent) women said they had been fired or made redundant when they returned to work after having a child, or were treated so badly they felt forced out of their job.

The BEIS study also estimated 54,000 women a year may lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity.

Separate research published last year found fewer than one in five women feel confident returning to work after maternity leave. The survey by MMB Magazine also found more than a third (37 per cent) felt so isolated they considered resigning.

Rachel Suff, employee relations advisor for the CIPD, welcomed the new government plans, saying family-friendly regulations and policies helped foster inclusive and productive work cultures.  

“Discrimination not only disadvantages individuals, it also means that employers themselves are missing out on key talent,” Suff said. “Organisations should be actively taking steps to stamp out any discrimination, as well as supporting flexible working arrangements and progression opportunities for parent returners.”

But Joeli Brearley, founder of advocacy group Pregnant Then Screwed, said the extensions would not help pregnant women who were being targeted at work. She added the proposal failed to support fathers who took time out to care for their children, which placed the burden of childcare on the shoulders of women.

She called on the government to “create a society where women can be both breadwinner and caregiver” to effectively reduce discrimination in the workplace. 

Sarah Chilton, partner at CM Murray, told People Management the proposed changes to further protect women from redundancy were a “misnomer” as they would not actually alter current legislation.

“As it is now, employees can be made redundant while on maternity leave if there are no alternative roles available – so this proposal won’t change that,” Chilton said. 

She added the proposal was a “good development” but did not “address underlying issues” around maternity and pregnancy discrimination in businesses. 

The government also committed to exploring evidence for changing employment tribunal time limits for claims relating to discrimination, harassment and victimisation, “including on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity”. 

The government said tribunals could already allow the three-month time limit to be extended in discrimination cases if it is considered this “just and equitable” given the circumstances of the case. It hoped the consultation would build on previous work to gather data on the success rate of “out of time” tribunal claims for pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

The consultation on extending redundancy protection for women and new parents will end on 5 April.

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