Last year, a report by the Women and Equalities Select Committee called for changes to the law to give extra protection to pregnant women and those on maternity leave. Below, we look at their recommendations and how the Government has responded.
Current protections can make some employers cautious to take any disciplinary action against a pregnant employee. While all facts should be considered, pregnant employees can still be fairly dismissed. Please contact the Business Support Helpline for advice on your specific situation before acting on the information in this article.
Pregnancy and maternity are protected characteristics within the Equality Act 2010 meaning that employers are acting unlawfully if they discriminate against a female employee who is pregnant or on maternity leave. Pregnancy-related illnesses should be discounted when considering levels of absence for qualifications for bonuses etc. Additional protection applies for women on maternity leave during redundancy exercises. There is no blanket ban on making employees redundant when they are on maternity leave, however, they must be offered alternative jobs as a priority over other employees.
The report contained real life experiences of pregnant women in the workplace, ranging from a lack of willingness to promote pregnant employees to employers cutting pay rises when they find out that an employee is pregnant. The Committee made 18 recommendations to the Government covering a wide spectrum of both workplace and healthcare changes.
The recommendations included:
• Create a system similar to that used in Germany where women can only be made redundant in specified circumstances, protecting them through pregnancy until six months after they return from maternity leave.
• Extending the right to paid time off for ante-natal classes to include ‘workers’ rather than just employees.
• Extending the range of maternity rights to workers.
• A statement of the Government’s intention that pregnancy and maternity-related rights will not be eroded after the UK leaves the EU.
• A decrease in the level of fee the employee must pay to bring a discrimination claim, and an extension to the time limit for making pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims.
The Government has confirmed that it will look to increase the protection of new and expectant mothers from redundancy. The current review of modern working practices will consider whether maternity rights of employees should be extended to workers. However, the suggestion to decrease ET fees and extend ET time limits was rejected.