There are various provisions from which employees on maternity leave currently benefit and these protections are set to be increased further.
Existing protection includes protection from dismissal, detriment or discrimination because of pregnancy, childbirth or taking maternity leave. Employees on maternity leave also benefit from the following:
- any improvements as if the employee had not been away, such as a pay rise or any other changes to their terms and conditions for grade or level.
- If the employee leaves part-way through the statutory maternity pay period, they will continue to receive statutory maternity pay (if eligible) for the remainder of the pay period until their entitlement ends or there is a disqualifying event, such as the employee starting a new job. The rate for statutory maternity pay for 33 weeks increased in April 2023 to £172.48.
- If a redundancy situation arises during an employee’s maternity leave and it is “not practicable by reason of redundancy” for the employee to continue to be employed under the existing contract, the employee must be offered a suitable alternative vacancy (where one is available) to start immediately after the existing contract ends.
The right to be offered a suitable a suitable alternative vacancy without having to go through a competitive interview process is granted under Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 (“MPL Regulations”).
The Equality and Human Rights Commission found in 2015 that around 54,000 new mothers each year may be forced out of their jobs and since then there have been calls for the government to increase the redundancy protections for those taking maternity leave. At the moment, Regulation 10 only protects the employee during their maternity leave, rather than before the leave starts or after they have returned to work.
The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill is set to increase the scope of Regulation 10 of the MPL Regulations. The Bill went to the House of Lords committee in April 2023 and will hopefully become law soon. The Bill extends protection to cover a set period before the start of maternity leave as well as after the maternity leave ends.
When the Bill becomes law, the protection under Regulation 10 will start when the employer is informed of the pregnancy in writing and will last for six months after the employee returns from maternity leave. The protection in the Bill also extends to employees who take adoption or shared parental leave.
Whilst this is good news for employees in a redundancy situation, there will still be other reasons why employees leave their employment or bring claims in the Employment Tribunal after taking time off for their families. For example, after a period of leave, an employee may wish to change their working pattern or place of work or feel they have incurred discrimination or detriment. Employers therefore should be aware of their on-going obligations and the protection that employees who have taken family leave continue to have.
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