Jessica Fino 25 Jan 2019 11:44am

More job protection for pregnant women proposed

The UK government has launched a consultation on increasing protection for pregnant women and new parents returning to work

New parents would be better protected from unfair dismissal under these new proposals, which recommend extending the legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and new mothers on maternity leave for up to six months after they return to work

This would also apply to parents returning from adoption leave or shared parental leave.

The recommendation follows government research that found one in nine women have been dismissed or made redundant after returning to work from maternity leave.

Prime minister Theresa May said, “People in this country already benefit from some of the most rigorous workplace standards in the world, including parental leave and pay entitlements, but we are determined to do even more as we leave the EU.

“It’s unacceptable that too many parents still encounter difficulties when returning to work. Today’s proposals are set to provide greater protection for new parents in the workplace, and put their minds at ease at this important time.”

Meanwhile, business minister Kelly Tolhurst pointed out that pregnancy and maternity discrimination is illegal, but some new mothers still find “unacceptable attitudes on their return to work, which effectively forces them out of their jobs”.

Parental discussion forum Mumsnet found that 96% of women it previously surveyed said having children affected mothers’ careers for the worse.

“It’s a multifaceted problem requiring a change in attitude and culture as well as legislation, but stronger legal protection is a very welcome first step,” said Justine Roberts, founder of the forum.

The business world has reacted with mixed responses. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) criticised the lack of measures for the self-employed, but charity Working Families said the proposals “should go a long way” towards protecting UK families.

Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman, said, “Once again the self-employed have been overlooked by this government.

“While efforts to improve support for parents in the workplace are welcome, these efforts should include meaningful support for the self-employed. Sole traders who take the step into parenthood continue to be left out in the cold.

“Self-employed mothers are entitled to less statutory pay than their employee counterparts. Self-employed fathers are entitled to none at all.

“And – despite there being more than 1,000 children waiting on the adoption register, requiring expensive foster care placements – the government provides no support for self-employed people who want to adopt.

"The government needs to spend more time thinking about our 4.8 million-strong self-employed community, not just employees.”

However, Jane van Zyl, CEO of Working Families, said, “While many of the companies we work with already understand the business benefits of family-friendly workplaces, some employers still don’t. Proposals to extend protection from redundancy to new mothers and parents returning to work should go a long way toward protecting their jobs – and to reducing the shocking number of women who lose their jobs due to pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

“Because more and more parents are sharing care equally, we welcome plans to ensure equal treatment for parents returning from shared parental leave or adoption – bringing their rights in line with those enjoyed by women on maternity leave.”

Josh Hardie, deputy director-general at the Confederation of British Industry, said pregnancy and maternity discrimination was “totally unacceptable” and that “providing the right environment for parents to return to work with confidence and develop their careers should be high on the list of employers’ priorities”.

Emma Codd, managing partner for talent at Deloitte, added, “Returning to work after parental leave can be a stressful and anxious time that shouldn’t be made worse by fears of possible discrimination. Businesses have a duty to support employees when they return from any extended absence, ensuring they can transition smoothly back into the job and helping them find a healthy balance between their career and home life.”