Skip to content

Changes to Maternity Redundancy Laws Explained

3 min read
hr professional reviewing the changes to UK maternity redundancy laws

A new parliamentary bill, the ‘Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill’, has passed through the Commons and is currently debating in the House of Lords. With the House of Commons’ backing and government support, the bill will likely be passed in 2024, becoming law in England, Wales, and Scotland.

The bill is one of several smaller private member bills covering employment that replace the broader-reaching Employment Bill laid out in the 2019 Queen’s Speech.

If unchanged, the new rules will extend protection from redundancy, covering from when a pregnancy is disclosed to 18 months after birth and place a statutory duty on employers to prioritise soon-to-be and new parents at risk of redundancy by offering them first refusal of a suitable alternative. The bill also covers parents taking adoption or shared parental leave.

Redundancy is a form of dismissal from a job. It happens when an employer needs to reduce the workforce, or a role is no longer required. The current redundancy policy for pregnancy and new parents is included in the Maternity and Paternity Leave Regulations set out within the Employment Relations Act 1999.

The regulations stipulate that employers are obligated to offer suitable alternative employment, where a vacancy exists, to a parent only during their maternity leave, shared parental leave, or adoption leave if their role becomes redundant. It does not require any priority treatment for new parents or pregnant employees when finding alternative roles.

Women are also protected under the Equality Act 2010, which cites pregnancy as a protected characteristic. This makes it unlawful to dismiss or discriminate against someone because they are pregnant, have a pregnancy-related illness, have recently given birth, are breastfeeding, or are seeking maternity leave.

But despite current protections, a study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2016 found that as many as 54,000 employees a year lose their jobs because they’re pregnant. The same report also found that three in four working mothers – the equivalent of 390,000 women – experience maternity discrimination.

The pandemic compounded the issue, with mothers 47% more likely to have left paid work than fathers and where both parents continued to work, mothers saw a more significant proportional reduction in working hours because of childcare commitments enforced by various covid stay at home rules.

The new bill aims to protect new parents and expectant mothers from workplace discrimination and offer them greater job security.

Employers are also expected to benefit from the bill. By supporting pregnant women and new parents, businesses are more likely to maintain a skilled and diverse workforce, which is linked to increased profitability and productivity, as well as positively impacting employee satisfaction and retention.

However, according to recent research by employment law and HR consultancy, WorkNest, 67% of businesses still needed clarification about the proposed changes, and only 2% have updated their policies and procedures ahead of the bill.

Alexandra Farmer, Head of Team and a solicitor at WorkNest said: “The movement on these bills comes at a time when many businesses are short-staffed either as a result of recruitment challenges or staffing cutbacks. So, it’s understandable that allowing more flexibility across the board, and affording some employees additional entitlements, may be difficult to accommodate.

“It’s crucial that workplaces are flexible and family-friendly so employers should get the relevant advice on how to successfully make the required adaptations for staff as they come into force.”

However, with new regulations not expected to come into effect until next year, employers still have plenty of time to get ahead of the bill.

What Does the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill Mean for Employers?

  • Make sure you’re aware of obligations to pregnant employees and new parents.

Under the new rules, a dismissal could be deemed automatically unfair if a business fails to offer an alternative role to someone protected by the Protect from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill.

It has also not yet been publicly reported on whether women who miscarry before informing their employer of the pregnancy will be covered or what the effect of incorporating annual leave into the maternity, shared parental and adoption leave terms is.

Make sure you are clear on all the new rules and how they might affect other areas of your business’s policy.

  • Update policies and procedures.

The bill will likely require you to update the maternity, paternity, adoption, and shared parental leave policies and procedures when it passes. This can take time, especially if you work in a large or complex organisation, so beginning the process as soon as possible.

  • Ensure your redundancy consultations are fair and consistent.

The new legislation also presents an opportunity for you to ensure your current redundancy consultations are being conducted appropriately. Current UK law stipulates any redundancies of between 20 and 99 people must have a consultation period of at least 30 days and 45 days for over 100 employees.

Your consultations must be genuine and meaningful, allowing employees to raise objections and ask questions, and you must also consider any alternatives to redundancy before they are made.

Jessie is an experienced content creator and copywriter specialising in technology and telecommunications. She comes to the HR technology space keen to exercise a passion for people and the human resources industry.

Related posts