Rebecca Goudy

Associate Solicitor

DATE PUBLISHED: 08 Mar 2024 LAST UPDATED: 08 Mar 2024

International Women’s Day: Redundancy during maternity leave

International Women’s Day is a global day to promote gender equality and equal opportunities for women.

Many women suffer from discriminatory treatment from their employers either during their pregnancy or maternity leave or when they try to return to work. It is fundamental that our employment legislation protects woman these periods.

At present, the Employment Rights Act 1996 only goes as far as to provide special protection to employees who are on maternity leave in respect of a redundancy situation. The legislation provides that women on maternity leave have the right to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy (if there is one available) as a priority, before the decision to make them redundant is made. An invite to apply for an alternative vacancy would not comply with this obligation. If an employer fails to comply, this would result in an automatic unfair dismissal and/or a sex/maternity discrimination claim.

It is important to note that the protection does not prevent employees who are on maternity leave from being made redundant, but provides special protection instead. There is no protection available for women who are pregnant or who have returned from maternity leave.

The current legislation is concerning as it creates a gap for employers to carefully make redundancies after a woman has returned to work following maternity leave, as the protection under the Employment Rights Act would no longer apply. This puts woman in an unfair and unjust position especially as a return to work can be an anxious time for many women.

What changes are coming into force?

The Employment legislation has attempted to promote gender equality by extending redundancy protection. This will give pregnant woman and new parents greater protection from redundancy.

From 6th April 2024, the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023, which modifies the Employment Rights Act, will come into force. This extends the special protection to pregnant employees, and those who have recently returned from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave. The special protection means that those listed below are entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy (if available), if selected for redundancy.

The changes will work as follows:-

Pregnant employees: The protection commences from the point that the employer is notified of the pregnancy, which must be on or after 6th April 2024 for protection. This means that any notifications prior to this date will not be afforded protection during pregnancy. The protection ends two weeks after the end of the pregnancy if no entitlement to maternity leave (i.e. due to miscarriage before 24 weeks).

Maternity leave: The protection is for 18 months after the expected week of childbirth (or the child’s actual birth date if the employer is notified before the end of maternity leave).  It applies where the employee’s statutory maternity leave period ends on or after 6th April 2024

Statutory adoption leave: For protection, the period of statutory adoption leave must end on or after 6th April 2024. The protection applies for a period of 18 months after the child is placed with the employee for adoption.

Shared parental leave: The protection starts from the beginning of shared parental leave (or if taken maternity or adoption leave as set out above). It applies for a period of 18 months after the child was born, but the employee must have taken a period of at least 6 consecutive weeks of shared parental leave and the first day of that period of leave must be on or after 6th April 2024.

We believe that this is a step in the right direction for gender equality. The new legislation will assist in promoting job security during pregnancy, maternity, adoption or shared parental leave, and upon return to the workplace. However, it is still important to remember that the new legislation does not prevent an employer from making an employee redundant in the protected period, but instead, provides the employees with priority status for redeployment opportunities.

How can Ellis Jones help?

If you are pregnant, on maternity leave or have returned from maternity leave and require advice, our friendly employment team would be very happy to assist you. Please contact us on 01202 525333 or email employment@ellisjones.co.uk

How can we help?

When you submit this form an email will be sent to the relevant department who will contact you within 48 hours. If you require urgent advice please call 01202 525333.

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