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Employers’ Duties to Parents Extended in Draft Proposals

Employers’ Duties to Parents Extended in Draft Proposals

employment rights pregnant women and new mums

Employers’ duties towards pregnant women and new parents returning to work could be expanded under government plans to protect child-rearing workers from discrimination.

Under proposals published in January by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), employers could be legally prohibited from making a pregnant worker or workers who take parental leave redundant for six months after their return to work. Currently, such workers only receive legal protection against redundancy for two weeks after their return.

The reforms would legally oblige an employer who is making redundancies to offer pregnant workers and those within six months of parental leave a suitable alternative role, rather than laying them off. Workers protected under the proposed law would include pregnant women and men and women returning from adoption or shared parental leave. The laws go beyond employment law requirements instated by the EU and would tighten UK employer obligations following Brexit.

54,000 women lose their jobs over pregnancy each year

Prime Minister Theresa May has welcomed the proposals, stating:

“It’s unacceptable that too many parents still encounter difficulties when returning to work.”

According to figures cited in the BEIS department’s report, 1 in 9 female employees have been fired or made redundant after maternity leave, or were treated so badly upon returning to work that they felt forced out of their job. The report also estimated that up to 54,000 women a year could lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity leave.

Unveiling the report, business minister Kelly Tolhurst said:

“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.”

Critics of the proposals say that they would place undue restrictions on employers and result in positive discrimination, stopping employers from making necessary redundancy decisions on the basis of fair, objective criteria.

For example, the rules could mean that one employee is made redundant over another purely on the basis that they are not pregnant or recently returned from parent leave.

The Prime Minister dismissed this perspective, stating that the toughness of the proposed new laws “show[ed] that the UK is going even further in its commitment to workers’ rights and meeting the challenges of the changing world of work.”

Proposals expose employers to more tribunal claims

As well as bolstering employers’ duties towards workers taking parent leave, new legislative proposals could open the gates for more employers to be taken to court over workers’ complaints by relaxing the time restrictions on employees making tribunal claims.

Under current law, workers seeking to make a claim against their employers in a tribunal can only do so within three months of the offending behaviour.

A Law Commission consultation into employment law hearing structures has however highlighted significant professional criticism of this time limit. Responding to the consultation, a spokesperson for the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) said that the organisation “does not see the primary time limit of three months…as fit for purpose in many instances.”

CILEx President Philip Sherwood notes that the role of employment tribunals has dramatically expanded since their introduction in 1964, stating that this “reflects the increasing complexity of the law and the cases being brought.”

On this basis, Mr Sherwood reasons,”It is right that employees are given more time to take stock before bringing an action.”

The Equality Act 2010 states that before workers bring a legal claim to the employment tribunal, they must first must put in a request to Acas for early conciliation, during which time the time limit is paused. In rare cases, the employment tribunal may exercise its discretion to extend the time limits where it is deemed just and equitable to do so for both the employer and employee involved.

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