Enhanced redundancy protections for new parents in UK announced

Out-Law News | 26 Jul 2019 | 11:31 am | 2 min. read

Pregnant workers, those on maternity leave and new parents returning to work after an extended period of family leave will benefit from enhanced redundancy protections, the UK government has announced.

Currently, a woman on maternity leave who is selected for redundancy must be given priority over other employees at risk of redundancy when suitable alternative employment is available. Following consultation, this right will now be extended to staff on other types of parental leave, women who have returned from maternity leave in the previous six months and those who have told their employer that they are pregnant.

Employment law expert Helen Corden of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, described the changes as "a significant enhancement to the redundancy protection for women".

"As soon as a woman informs her employer she is pregnant she will essentially have 'queue jumping' rights in a redundancy situation where there is suitable alternative employment available," she said. "These queue jumping rights will extend throughout her pregnancy, during her maternity leave and for a period of six months following her return to work. Similar redundancy protections are now also being extended to other new parents who are returning to work after extended periods of leave for adoption and shared parental leave purposes."

Corden Helen

Helen Corden

Partner

Employers often fall foul of the queue jumping rights in a redundancy situation as they are simply not aware of them. The extension of the protection therefore needs to be well publicised.

"Many employers often fall foul of the queue jumping rights in a redundancy situation as they are simply not aware of them. The extension of the protection therefore needs to be well publicised so that it is clear when they apply and who they apply to. This is crucial, especially for smaller organisations which may not be aware of all their obligations in relation to pregnancy and maternity discrimination. It is therefore to be welcomed that the government is also setting up a task force to make recommendations on what improvements can be made to the information available to employers and families," she said.

The task force, the announcement of which accompanied publication of the government's consultation response, will be made up of employer and family groups. It will be asked to make recommendations to the government and other organisations about how to make it easier for pregnant women and new mothers to stay in work, as well as raising awareness of employer obligations and employee rights.

Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has shown that an estimated 54,000 women may lose their jobs every year due to pregnancy or maternity. The same research found that one in nine women had been dismissed 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 government intends to extend the 'queue jump' redundancy protections which currently apply to the period of maternity leave to cover the period of pregnancy and an additional six months after maternity leave ends. The same protections will also be extended to parents returning from adoption leave. The government intends to grant the same protections to new parents returning from a period of shared parental leave, but will have to consult further on how best to do this given the "practical and legal differences" between shared parental leave and maternity leave.

The announcement comes shortly after the government published a number of proposals designed to support working parents for consultation. These include proposed new leave entitlements for parents of sick and premature babies, and proposals to ensure that large businesses are more transparent on their policies for parental leave and pay and flexible working.