A charity has called for greater legal protections for new mothers, claiming the Government has failed to act on the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry into pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Maternity Action has compiled a report exploring an increase in redundancies among pregnant women and new mothers, suggesting that the UK adopts the German model of redundancy protection.
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination
This stipulates that women should not be made redundant, except in limited circumstances, from notification of their pregnancy through to six months after return to work.
The report cites recent figures from the WEC, which showed that pregnancy and maternity discrimination had worsened over the past decade, with around 390,000 women a year experiencing discrimination or negative experiences at work during pregnancy, while on maternity leave, or when they returned.
Eleven percent of mothers lost their jobs as a result of maternity discrimination, according to the committee, 80% higher than in 2005.
Under the current legal framework, employers must consult with employees who are at risk of redundancy, including those on maternity leave. They must also make sure that women on maternity leave are not disadvantaged during a redundancy consultation.
Women on maternity leave have some additional redundancy protection, under Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations, in that they are entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy, if one exists, during the 52-week maternity leave period. This protection does not apply while they are pregnant or once they return, however.
Rosalind Bragg, director of Maternity Action said: “The current legal framework is not protecting women from unfair treatment. Women are being forced out of their jobs by redundancies which are not genuine and by discriminatory selection processes. Women who have challenged bad practice by their employers are at particular risk.
“Pregnancy and new motherhood places significant demands on women’s physical and mental health, their time and financial resources. Few women take legal action on discrimination, even when they have a very strong case.
“On our advice line, we regularly speak to women who are facing unfair redundancy. At a time when they should be enjoying their new baby, these women are dealing with stressful negotiation processes and are seriously worried about their finances.”
The report includes examples where workers on maternity leave received little or no consultation around a pending redundancy; where they were given new and unsuitable roles on returning to work; or where roles were made redundant after requests for flexible working were turned down.
Maternity Action also calls for better access to timely information about rights at work for pregnant women and new mothers, adding that the Government should improve delivery of maternity rights information through its own channels.
In all, the charity makes 12 key recommendations:
1. Introduce new legal protections to protect women against unfair redundancy, from pregnancy through to six months after the end of maternity or shared parental leave.
2. ‘Reg 10’ protections should be immediately extended to operate from the commencement of pregnancy through to six months after the end of maternity or shared parental leave.
3. These protections should be extended to fathers and partners taking paternity, shared parental and parental leave during pregnancy and their child’s first year.
4. Employers should evaluate the retention rates for women one year after returning from maternity leave, as part of their gender pay gap analysis.
5. Extend the timeframe for making a claim to the employment tribunal to six months for women from pregnancy through to six months after return to work.
6. Acas should update its guidance on redundancy during pregnancy and maternity.
7. Government should consolidate information for employers on managing pregnant women and new mothers at work on a single website.
8. Government should provide signposting for women to high-quality online information on maternity rights.
9. Women’s charities should receive more funding to provide specialist information and advice services for pregnant women and new mothers.
10. All women should be given a hard copy leaflet at their first antenatal appointment which briefly outlines their rights at work and signposts to key sources of information and advice.
11. Pregnancy and ‘birth to five’ books should be introduced and include essential information about entitlements at work.
12. Midwives, maternity support workers and health visitors should receive training on maternity rights at work, including signposting to sources of advice and support.