The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act received Royal Assent on 24 May 2023 and came into force on 24th July 2023.
This new law offers greater protection against redundancy for pregnant employees and new parents. Its aim is to combat discrimination in the workplace, with special attention placed on new parent’s returning to work after a period of family friendly leave (giving them priority in any redeployment opportunities).
Current Rules Pregnancy and Family Leave
In a redundancy situation, employers are required to offer an employee on maternity, shared parental or adoption leave (“relevant leave”) a suitable alternative vacancy where one existed (Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave Etc Regulations 1999 (MAPLE).
New Rules Pregnancy and Family Leave
Since July 2023, the government has committed to extending the above rule to apply to pregnant employees as well as new parents returning to work from relevant leave.
However, we are yet to be informed of the exact date and manner in which these changes will come into effect for employers. We await further Regulations from the Government setting out this detail. It is anticipated that the Regulations will come into effect in or after April 2024.
What We Know
The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 now aims to protect the following groups of employees:
- Maternity, Adoption and Shared Parental Leave returners
- Pregnant employees
- Employees who have experienced a miscarriage.
Those on ordinary paternity leave are not offered the same protection, in light of the fact that they are only off for a short period and should not be affected by any adverse performance issues impacted by longer periods of time away from work by the other groups of employees.
Information is scarce on the exact extent of the protection to be afforded to the employees listed above. Although we believe, from the detail contained within the initial consultation exercise, that it is likely to kick in from the moment an employee advises of their pregnancy and for those coming back from the relevant leave, for a period of 6 months (which may be pro rata for parents who have only taken a short period of Shared Parental Leave).
The government has also indicated that it will protect an employee who has miscarried before they have informed their employer of their pregnancy. Although we do not know whether this will extend the period of miscarriage wider than existing provisions which distinguish and recognise miscarriages after 24 weeks.
Advice on Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023
For now, we would advise that the existing rules detailed above (Current Rules) still apply, and therefore there is no requirement to change your processes, should you be affected by redundancy.
That said, at Wirehouse we aim to support you to treat all employees fairly and we will be respectful of the personal circumstances of all your employees when providing advice to you on any given redundancy situation.
If you are thinking that you may be faced with having to make redundancies in the new year, the takeaway points from the new Act are that the new protections are likely to extend the period of protection for employees for up to 18 months after the birth of their child. This will be a longer period again for employees who inform their employer that they are pregnant at the earliest opportunity.
We will advise you of the consequences of any breach of these new protections as soon as the Regulations are in place setting these out. We would anticipate there will be a risk to a claim for automatic unfair dismissal, as already set out in the existing Regulations.
If you have any questions about staff members who are pregnant, or within a period of family friendly leave, or if you are anticipating having to consult on redundancies any time soon, please speak to our Employment Law team today for HR advice you can trust.