Employees on maternity leave currently receive additional protection in redundancy situations. At present, where an employee’s position becomes redundant whilst they are on maternity leave, the employer is under a statutory obligation to offer her any suitable alternative vacancy that exists at that time, without her needing to compete for the role with other applicants. The government has said it will introduce legislation to extend the current period of this redundancy protection in respect of the employee’s automatic entitlement to any existing suitable alternative employment that currently applies for women whose jobs are made redundant whilst on maternity leave. The current period of protection will be extended to apply from the point the employee notifies the employer of her pregnancy, whether orally or in writing, until six months after a new mother has returned to work. This follows the response to the government consultation where over 75% of respondents to the consultation agreed that the maternity redundancy protection should be extended after a woman's return to work, believing that it would give benefits to both employers and employees.
The new proposed legislation will also apply to employees returning from adoption leave and shared parental leave (i.e. so to both male and female employees), although in relation to employees returning from shared parental leave, the redundancy protection leave period is yet to be determined.
The government has concluded that paternity leave does not justify any redundancy protection similar to that given to individuals returning from other types of family leave. This is because, at least in part, the purpose of the extended period of protection is to ensure that employers do not make an early judgment on an individual’s work performance in the first few months of a person returning after a long absence, which would not be the case with paternity leave which is limited to two weeks’ leave.
To clarify, once this new legislation is enacted, as is currently the case, this would not prevent an employer from making an employee redundant when she is pregnant, on maternity leave, or recently returned to work. It simply means that if the employer does so and it has suitable alternative work available, it would be obliged to offer her that suitable alternative work where her current role is redundant.