Despite the UK having one of the strongest employee protection laws in Europe, over 54,000 women lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity leave discrimination every year. This is according to research conducted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which reveals that one in nine new mothers have been made redundant or even fired when they return to their jobs after maternity leave. Even though pregnancy and maternity is the most stressful time in a women’s life, those that experience these types of discrimination only have three months to raise a tribunal claim from the time of the incident. As a result, only 0.6% of women who encounter discrimination raise a tribunal claim.
This is why it’s hugely encouraging that the Government recently launched a consultation to investigate pregnancy and maternity discrimination and is looking to extend the protections already in place. Looking after employees when they become parents is key to a fair and diverse workplace, and it’s imperative that policies are in place to protect new parents returning to work.
Extensions to parental protection
In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 and the Employment Rights Act 1996 offer employees legal protection during pregnancy or maternity leave where they are exempt from redundancy or being fired at this time. However according to Pregnant and Screwed, these two acts alone haven’t been effective enough, and parents need more protection from the government as some employers use NDAs to silence women they let go.
With the launch of this consultancy, the government is now exploring the possibility of extending the protection offered to new mothers during maternity leave to cover the period spanning the six months after their return to work. The protection is also expected to include different types of parental groups such as adoptive parents or couples sharing parental leave, making the workplace even more inclusive.
For parents, particularly new parents, this gives them the chance to adjust to their new life without worrying about their jobs. And of course, employers will benefit from productive, committed and happy employees.
Additional enforcement to protect parents
Further to this extension, the government is also exploring the appointment of the single labour market enforcement agency as suggested by the Women and Equalities Select.
The recommendation encourages the British Government to adopt a similar system used in Germany where women can be made redundant only in specified circumstances.
According to the German system, employers are not able to make women redundant during their pregnancy and the four months after returning to work without securing permission from approved public authorities. In most cases only a few very exceptional cases get approved, and redundancy without approval is automatically made invalid.
With diversity and transparency being hot topics in business, organisations should be doing everything to ensure vulnerable workers are aware of and can exercise their rights. Ultimately, with research continually emphasising the importance of an engaged, happy and diverse workforce, it’s the best thing for employees and the business they work for.