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Extra Protection for Women Coming Back From Maternity Leave

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The UK Government has announced that it will be supporting a new law that gives women coming back to work after being off on maternity leave more protection from redundancy.

Employment law solicitor, Rachel Ford-Evans at Darwin Gray explores what this means and shares some key things for employers to consider.

What’s the planned change to the law?

The law at the moment protects women from the risk of being made redundant during their maternity leave. If an employer is thinking of making some of their staff redundant, the law says that the employer has to offer an employee who is off on maternity leave any suitable available job in priority to other employees who are also at risk of redundancy.

The planned changes aim to extend that protection so that women will be protected throughout their pregnancy and after they come back from maternity leave as well, with the Government suggesting that this protection will begin at the point they tell their employer they are pregnant and go on for 18 months from the start of their maternity leave. The Government has said that the new law will shield pregnant women and new mothers from discrimination at work by “offering them better job security at an important time in their lives”.

This expansion of the law comes alongside a recent Employment Tribunal case in which a new mother took on the supermarket giant Morrisons for discriminating against her when she came back from maternity leave.

What happened in the case?

Before she went on leave, Donna Patterson was offered a promotion.  When she got the offer, she hadn’t told her bosses yet that she was pregnant.  While she was off on maternity leave, Morrisons restructured the department she worked in so that the new role she was offered no longer existed.  Instead, when she came back to work, her employer asked her to take on a full-time role, even though she was employed as a part-time worker.  The employee successfully brought a claim for maternity discrimination and unfavourable treatment.

Morrisons was ordered to pay her £60,000 in compensation.

What do employers need to do?

If you’re an employer thinking about making redundancies or restructuring, there are a few key things to think about when it comes to employees who are pregnant or taking maternity leave:

  • When going through a redundancy process, don’t forget about employees if they aren’t present in the workplace and don’t be tempted to assume that they won’t want to return to work just because they are starting a family. This could lead to an Employment Tribunal claim for discrimination.
  • Keep in touch with employees who are off on maternity leave. This will make integrating them back into the workplace much easier and gives the new mother the chance to tell you what support they may need before coming back to work.
  • Be open with the employee returning to work about their role, how any planned restructure may affect them, if they need any extra training, and have a chat about your flexible working policies if they would like to. This will tell you what their plans are and how they will fit into any restructured team.
  • Make sure you’re up to date with the law on maternity rights and what protections employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave have, and seek legal advice if you are considering making redundancies which could affect those employees.

For more guidance on restructuring and redundancies, join our employment law webinar on Thursday 24 November at 12pm. Register your free place.

If you need any help with any of the issues raised above, please contact employment lawyer Rachel Ford-Evans on [email protected] / 02920 829 120 for a free initial chat.