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New and expectant mothers to get 'sufficient protections' from redundancy, government confirms

Out-Law News | 27 Jan 2017 | 10:22 am | 1 min. read

The UK government is to revisit the law around redundancy for new and expectant mothers, to ensure that they are sufficiently protected from discrimination.

Business minister Margot James said that a consultation on specific measures would be published "in due course".

The government was responding to last year's report by the Women and Equalities Select Committee, in which it called for changes to the law to tackle what it described as a "shocking" increase in discrimination cases involving pregnant women and new mothers.

The law currently gives women on maternity leave the entitlement to return to the same job if they have been off work for 26 weeks or less, and gives them priority over other employees who are at risk of redundancy. In its August report, the committee recommended that these protections be strengthened to mirror German law, under which women who are pregnant, on maternity leave or who have only recently returned to work can only be made redundant in specified circumstances.

James described tackling pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination as a "key priority".

"We are determined to tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination and a key part of that is making sure new and expectant mothers are supported and treated fairly by their employers," she said.

"While most businesses abide by the law, some do not. There should be zero tolerance of discrimination against pregnant women, or women who have just given birth … [That's why] we are committing to making sure new and expectant mothers have sufficient protections from redundancy," she said.

The government has, however, rejected the committee's recommendation to extend the time limit for bringing a pregnancy or maternity discrimination case before the employment tribunal from the standard three months, to six months. Instead, it had pledged to provide "further guidance" to both individuals and the courts about the tribunal's power to extend the time limit on a case by case basis where it is 'just and equitable' to do so.

Committee chair Maria Miller said that extending the tribunal time limit was "an opportunity for the government to demonstrate the urgency and bite on this issue that we found lacking when we published our report in August".

The committee was also keen to see the publication of the government's own review of the effect that the introduction of employment tribunal fees in July 2013 had had on the number of claims, she said. Justice Minister Oliver Heald told the House of Commons this week that the publication was "imminent".

The committee also recommended "greater parity" between employees and temporary and agency staff, as well as those on zero-hours contracts, on pregnancy and maternity rights, including an extension of the right to time off to attend ante-natal appointments. The government said that this would be addressed as part of the ongoing Taylor Review into modern working practices, which began in October.