Redundancy on Maternity Leave

By Amanda Beattie
21 Jan 2022
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With the current challenges to the global economy, your industry is changing. You need to restructure your business and cannot keep all positions going forward. One of your employees on such a position is soon expecting a baby. But can you be made redundant on maternity leave?

The simple, straight forward answer is yes, you can. How do you handle such a situation well, considering maternity leave adds another layer of complexity to the usual redundancy process?

Restructuring a company due to changing circumstances involves several factors you need to get right. As a business leader, you will likely prioritise financial and operational concerns. Avoiding discrimination claims in an employment tribunal might be the last thing on your mind. But it is also the last thing you want to have on your hands.

When it comes to redundancy and maternity leave, we have seen employers make mistakes that resulted in a tribunal claim. Keep in mind you might have to prove you did not simply consider letting your pregnant employee go because of their personal situation. Making a mistake when resorting to redundancy during maternity leave could cost you dearly if it comes across as discrimination.

If you have to start the process, let our highly experienced legal advisors help you. Call us today on 01455 858 132.

Can you make someone redundant on maternity leave?

Most employers ever faced with this situation will ask the question. And they should. Proceeding without covering relevant aspects can lead you to making mistakes. It can also lead to loss of trust within your company, loss of time necessary to make amends, and loss of reputation.

If you have to make your employee redundant whilst on maternity leave, think how this will look to a neutral observer. Have you considered all the available options first?

Approach the situation with this in mind, and remember that, by law, you need to:

  • Ensure redundancy is a genuine and the most feasible option. Be ready to prove if it necessary.
  • Consider alternatives - offer employment on a different job role, or voluntary redundancy with financial compensation.
  • Use non-discriminatory reasons for choosing the respective employee(s).
  • Consult with them and keep them informed at every stage of the process.
  • Communicate clearly throughout and do not leave anything out that could trigger claims of discrimination.

A very simple example of what could make employees feel discriminated against relates to their gender. If an employer ends up making redundant mostly female employees, they chance a discrimination claim. Check the percentage of women made redundant out of the total workforce of the female gender employed. If most of your staff are women, then inevitably they will be affected in higher numbers by redundancies.

Checks before making an employee redundant on maternity leave

Start by asking yourself how solid your reasons for making staff redundant.

Would they stand in a tribunal?
How easily could the employee made redundant dispute that you have genuine reasons for it?

Can You Be Made Redundant On Maternity Leave

If the nature of their job makes it less essential within the current economy, you have a good start. You might have to also demonstrate that you cannot create or offer them another position to fit their skills and knowledge. This general rule of thumb applies in any situation when a member of staff is made redundant.  

Also, consider how much your business depends on this job, weighed against costs to the company. If you lose business by keeping their position for the foreseeable future, with no alternative solution available, then being made redundant on maternity leave remains the only option.  

Once you analysed all the relevant aspects, and you decide you need to proceed, think of how it will impact the employee. Don’t wait for them to ask - can I be made redundant on maternity leave? Not only can this raise questions around the fairness of the process, but risks creating more tension. Show them you understand the stress that this situation causes and support them the best you can throughout.

For the employee made redundant on maternity leave, this might mean they leave on good terms.

If you have genuine concerns over the negative impact of your decision, you can negotiate voluntary redundancy.

Taking voluntary redundancy whilst on maternity leave

redundancy during maternity leave

Use this path, when you can, in such a way as to offer a preferable solution to your employees. You will basically give them the option to volunteer themselves for dismissal, so think about why they would do this. This applies to all your employees, including pregnant ones. Do not risk them feeling pressured into it, as again it could turn into a costly tribunal affair.

By offering them a severance package, which involves a sum of money and/or benefits, you will give them a reason to volunteer. You don’t have to do this, but you have to ensure you pay statutory redundancy and maternity leave.

Remember that the employee needs to put themselves forward for this option. Communicate that they can, at a preliminary stage, and allow for them to decide. Once you start voluntary redundancy, if you revert to dismissing employees you might end up fuelling workplace conflict.

There is one situation when you cannot follow either of the paths we’ve discussed so far. If you think of making somebody redundant before maternity leave starts, it will not help you or your business. You will still have to give them both the redundancy pay and maternity leave pay.  

It’s probably best that, if your employee will go on maternity leave, you take your time and make the right decision. Rushing things will spare you no money, nor will it help your relationship with them.

You can still choose redundancy shortly after maternity leave, and same entitlements as in any similar situation will apply.

Call us for personalised advice

There is a lot to consider legally around redundancy on maternity leave in the UK. Don’t dismiss the option if you need to reduce your workforce due to new circumstances. Still, do not use it lightly. When handling such a situation, mistakes are easily made, and they risk being costly.

We will assist you 24/7 with advice that applies to your particular situation and will help your business move forward. Call us today to discuss and get advice on the best way moving forward on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

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