The Government has pledged to consult on options to ensure there are sufficient protections for pregnant women and new mothers.
As it currently stands, the law does extend certain protections to pregnant employees or those on maternity leave.
- In redundancy cases, they must be offered any suitable alternative positions over any other colleagues, even if those colleagues are more suitable for the role.
- If an employee returns during the first 26 weeks of maternity leave, the employee is entitled to return to the job they held before they commenced their maternity leave. If the employee returns between 26 and 52 weeks, they have the right to their previous job. If you cannot offer them their previous job, you will need to offer them a suitable similar job.
- It would be considered an automatic unfair dismissal if the main or sole reason for their dismissal is the fact that they are pregnant or on maternity leave.
- It is not lawful to discriminate against a woman because she is pregnant, on maternity leave, has recently given birth or is breastfeeding.
Despite these protections, a report by the Women and Equalities Committee in August 2016 found that 11% of women reported that they were dismissed, made compulsorily redundant or treated so poorly that they felt they had to leave their job because of their pregnancy or having a child. In light of this, the Committee made a number of recommendations to strengthen existing rights and protections and now the government has responded to their suggestions.
- The Committee called for the law to follow the example set by German law, which only allows pregnant women, those on maternity leave or those who have just returned to work to be made redundant in certain circumstances. The government will consider options to ensure that those who are pregnant or returning from maternity leave are sufficiently protected.
- The Committee also called for temporary and agency staff and those on zero-hours contracts to have the same pregnancy and maternity rights as employees. The government has responded that as part of the current review of employment practices in the modern economy, they would also consider the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.
- The government was not convinced by the Committee’s arguments and rejected their recommendation to review the three-month time limit for bringing a claim in maternity and pregnancy discrimination cases.
- In response to calls for a substantial reduction in tribunal fees for discrimination cases, the government says it will publish the conclusions of its review into Employment Tribunal fees shortly.
- The government has also made it clear that leaving the EU will not result in “diminution of employment rights”.
The consultation has been promised to be launched in due course. We will keep you up to date with all the developments.