Hot topic: Extended maternity rights, part two

The government has set out proposals to increase rights for pregnant women and new mothers through protecting them against redundancy for six months after they return to work

With 11% of new mothers getting fired or being made redundant, is this a significant step forward or could the plans go further?

Beverley Sunderland, managing director of Crossland Employment Solicitors, says:

"Although this looked as if it might be a radical change to the law, in fact it is much less than that. There is no law preventing a woman from being selected for redundancy while on or returning from maternity leave. However it is discrimination if she is selected specifically because she has been on maternity leave.

"And if a returning mum is selected for redundancy then she already has enhanced rights at that stage. These include putting a positive onus on the employer to take steps to find her a role, and the right to be offered a suitable vacancy without competitive interview. Those returning from shared parental and adoption leave have the same rights.

"The proposal is to extend this protection so that if a new parent is selected for redundancy within six months of returning to work then they must be offered suitable vacancies and the business must take proactive steps to find them alternatives.

"While this does bridge some of the gap between a widely-reported problem and a solution, arguably this does not go far enough. There is a delicate balance between positive discrimination and ensuring there is fairness for those returning to work after the birth or adoption of a child."

An anonymous former HR director, says:

"I was made redundant just nine months into maternity leave with my first child, two weeks before Christmas. Apparently they ‘no longer needed a senior HR professional’ but my old colleagues still beg to differ. Our employer had already made up its mind that senior women cannot perform in their role when they become mothers. Sadly I know I am not alone.

"The government can extend maternity, paternity and parental rights but I strongly believe that it won’t help unless they are linked to flexible working. While the new changes may protect your job for a little longer, the harsh reality is that your employer could already be putting plans in place to eliminate your role after the period ends.

"This may sound cynical. But I have experienced this and seen a number of other professionals face the same treatment. More needs to be done to help educate employers about how returning mums and parents generally can positively affect the workplace.

"There seems to be a fear among many employers that women returning to work after a period of maternity leave won’t be able to do their job as well. This fear is irrational. I appreciate the cost and frustration of maternity for the employer. But it’s just a baby, not the end of the world."

Read the first part of this hot topic