As part of its Good Work Plan, the UK Government has recently published a response and a consultation paper on proposals which will protect and support families and pregnant women. The first Government paper considers extending redundancy protection for women and new parents.  The second consultation looks at various proposals to support families, including a review of the various parental leaves and pay entitlements, neo-natal leave and pay and providing transparency of employer’s work-life balance policies.

Good Work Plan: Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Consultation

As part of the Good Work Plan, the Government has considered changes to assist pregnant women and new mothers in their return to work. Currently, women on maternity leave have special protection in a redundancy situation.  Under the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999, employers have an obligation to offer employees on maternity leave who are at risk of redundancy, a suitable alternative vacancy, where one is available.  This means that women on maternity leave have priority over other employees who are also at risk of redundancy.  However, evidence given to the Government indicated that, on their return to work, some women were being forced out of work.  The Government therefore considered whether women could receive additional protection from redundancy on return from maternity and other forms of parental leave.  As a result of the consultation paper, the Government has proposed that:

  1. The redundancy protection period will apply from the point that the employee informs the employer that she is pregnant, whether orally and in writing.
  2. The redundancy protection period will be extended for a period of six months once a new mother has returned to work. It is expected that this period will start immediately once maternity leave is finished notwithstanding any additional leave which may immediately flow.
  3. The redundancy protection period will be extended to those taking adoption leave by following the same approach as the extended protection period for those returning from maternity leave.
  4. The redundancy protection period will also apply to those returning to work following a period of shared parental leave. However, there are more complex issues which need to be taken into account when considering return from shared parental leave and therefore in developing this protection the Government will take into account the following:
  • The key objective is to help protect pregnant women and new mothers from discrimination.
  • The practical and legal differences between shared parental leave and maternity leave will mean that it will require a different approach.
  • The period of extended protection should be proportionate to the amount of leave and the threat of discrimination.
  • The mother should be no worse off if she curtails her maternity leave and then takes a period of shared parental leave.
  • The solution should not deter individuals from taking shared parental leave.

A task force of employer and family representative groups will be established to make recommendations and develop an action plan.

The Government has also indicated that it will consult to explore whether the three month time limit for bringing claims relating to discrimination, harassment and victimisation, including on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity should be extended to 6 months.

Good Work Plan: Proposals to Support Families

Another area in which the Government sought to improve support to parents is to look at the ways of balancing work and family life, including a consideration of how parental leave and pay is used and a new right to neo-natal leave and pay. A consultation paper was issued on 19 July 2019 and the consultation closes on the 11 October 2019 (in relation to neo-natal leave and pay and transparency) and on 29 November 2019 (parental leave and pay).

Parental leave and pay

The Government has set out in detail the different parental leaves and pay which exist for working families currently: paternity leave and pay; shared parental leave and pay; maternity leave and pay; and parental leave for parents of older children. It also examines some parental leave schemes which apply in other jurisdictions.

The consultation makes the point that the bigger the reforms that are made the more the reforms needed to meet the multiple policy objectives which include flexibility for families; increasing fathers involvement in childcare; supporting women’s labour market participation; and further reducing the employment and gender pay gaps. The consultation therefore asks a large number of questions in relation to each separate area of leave and pay and asks for suggestions as to how these models can be amended.

New entitlements for parents of babies who require neo-natal care

Currently, there is no specific right to any leave or pay for neo-natal care: Parents must rely on their statutory leave entitlements to enable them to be off work, meaning that a proportion of statutory leave may be spent with the baby in hospital.  As a result, these parents are unable to spend time caring for their child outside the medical environment for a proportion of their maternity leave or paternity leave.

The consultation is therefore seeking views on some of the following issues:

  • Whether the entitlement to neo-natal leave and pay should be restricted to individuals who have had the main responsibility for caring for the child following birth?
  • Whether the parents of babies who need to spend time in neo-natal care should have access to additional pay and leave and whether this should be capped.
  • Whether the neo-natal leave should be a day one right or whether there should be a qualifying period?
  • Should the parents be required to give a reasonable period of notice and if so what would be the period of notice?
  • Should the parent be required to give evidence of entitlement to neo-natal leave and pay?
  • Should parents on neo-natal leave have the same protections as employees on parental leave for example regarding return to work?

Transparency: flexible working and family related leave and policies

The final chapter in the consultation looks at provisions which would require large employers (i.e. those with 250 or more employees) to publish any family related leave and pay and flexible working policies on their websites. The Government believes that more needs to be done to improve the clarity, certainty and understanding of employer’s policies if the UK is to maintain the momentum on closing the gender pay gap.  In addition, it asks the question whether any job advertisements should be required to state that the position is open to flexible working to avoid an individual being required to raise the issue.

These consultation papers and responses were put in place before the new prime minister took charge. It will therefore be interesting to see whether the new Government will take these proposals forward.

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