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MP urges stronger protection against redundancy for pregnant women and new mothers

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

Alice Sanderson, May 23, 2019

Conservative MP Maria Miller has introduced a bill preventing firms from sacking women during pregnancy and maternity leave, and for six months afterwards.

She says that government proposals to extend current protections do not go far enough.

 

What is the current situation?

Current rules state that employers must offer a ‘suitable’ vacancy, where available, if they wish to make a woman on maternity leave redundant.

Proposals by the government would extend this rule to cover six months following their return to work, which they argue would help to tackle discrimination.

These new plans, announced in January, would also extend protections to others, including men, returning from adoption or shared parental leave.

 

Proposals don’t go far enough

However, Ms Miller, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said this rule is "too often ignored or circumvented by employers”.

She said women on maternity leave are in practice "unable to participate on equal terms" with other candidates applying for roles, and maternity leave is "no time to be going for a job interview".

Ms Miller suggests that while the extended protections are welcome, there should also be a wider ban on redundancies to “take the onus off women”.

In Germany, pregnant women cannot be made redundant without approval from a specific public authority, and Ms Miller suggests a wider ban in the UK would mirror this system.

Ms Miller introduced her bill to Parliament on Tuesday (21st May 2019), saying that the ban would apply as such unless the company were to cease the work a new mother is employed to do, or were to close down.

She introduced the bill using the ten-minute rule, which gives backbench MPs the ability to put forward ideas for new laws. However, without government support such legislation faces little chances of becoming law, and it is instead often used as a way of voicing opinion or to raise an issue on existing laws.

 

Research shows scale of the problem

Research by the Business Department in 2016 found that 11% of women surveyed had been fired or made redundant upon their return to work after having a child, or felt forced out of their job after being treated badly.

If scaled up to the general population, this could mean that as many as 54,000 women are forced out of their roles annually due to maternity discrimination. 

The research also showed that 77% of mothers said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience at work during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on their return to work.

 

Criticism

Speaking to the BBC, employment lawyer Yunus Lunat, said that maternity and pregnancy discrimination is taking place on an “industrial scale” and the majority of cases are covered by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

NDAs prevent information being made public, and if an NDA is broken then the person who does so could face being sued.

"Employers feel they can get away with it, because the employee is offered a sum of money, nowhere near what should be adequate to compensate, but offered a sum as an inducement to leave," he said.

"Perhaps if someone is having a difficult pregnancy, uncertainties about the future – do they really want all this uncertainty about going to tribunal not knowing what the outcome will be?

"Nine out of 10 women in that situation will just sign the agreement and move on."

Similarly, campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed said that Ms Miller’s proposed legislation would “make very little difference”.

Founder of the group, Joeli Brearley said: "Fewer than 1% of women who experience pregnancy or maternity discrimination even raise a tribunal claim, so if women can't use the law to protect themselves there's little point in enhancing it.

"We know that a third of employers avoid hiring women of childbearing age, so if we make it more onerous for companies to hire women, that will play out in the recruitment process. Discrimination will occur before women are even employed and this is an enormous contributor to the gender pay gap."

 

Further information

If you have been a victim of discrimination at work, contact First4Lawyers today and let our expert solicitors help you get the justice you deserve. Request a call back from one of our team for more information.

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