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Government proposals to extend legal protections for pregnant women and new mothers

Posted: 18th February 2019

Amy Gordon, Solicitor in Lindsays’ Employment team, discusses the recently published Government consultation paper which sets out proposals to extend the legal protection afforded to pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace.

The Government has published a consultation paper setting out proposals to extend the legal protection afforded to pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace.

The proposals follow research which found that women continue to experience difficulties in employment when returning from family-related leave. Research by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (‘BEIS’) estimates that as many as 54,000 women may lose their job each year due to pregnancy or maternity.

The current legal protections for pregnant women or women who have recently given birth are contained in the Equality Act 2010 and the Maternity and Parental Leave Etc Regulations 1999 (‘Maternity Regulations’). Women are protected against discrimination from the start of their pregnancy until the date two weeks after the end of pregnancy or, if later, until their return from maternity leave (known as the ‘protected period’).

This protection is against discrimination because of pregnancy or taking maternity leave. After the protected period, it is unlawful to treat a woman less favourably because of her pregnancy, maternity or breastfeeding.

Under the Maternity Regulations women on maternity leave benefit from priority over other employees in a redundancy situation and must be offered a suitable alternative vacancy in preference to other employees at risk of redundancy, when such a vacancy is available.

Despite the existing protections, research cited by the Women and Equalities Select Committee suggests that new mothers are still being forced out of work when they seek to return. To tackle this, the Government is considering extending the protection afforded to pregnant women in a redundancy situation beyond the maternity leave period – so that the obligation to offer a suitable alternative vacancy would apply from the time a woman informs her employer she is pregnant until 6 months after her return from maternity leave.

Extending this protection to those on adoption leave, shared parental leave and longer periods of parental leave is also under consideration. The Government’s full consultation paper can be accessed here and is open for response until 05 April 2019.

Amy Gordon, a Solicitor in Lindsays’ Employment team commented;

“Whilst the Government’s proposals are aimed at tackling pregnancy and maternity discrimination by extending legal protections, it is also hoped that these will bring about cultural changes around women in the workplace.

“Research conducted in 2017 by the BEIS, found that one third of private sector employers agreed that it was reasonable to ask women about their plans to have children in the future during recruitment, showing the potential for discrimination can begin at the early stages of the employment journey.

“Employers can familiarise themselves with current legislation and best practice by consulting the ACAS guidance on Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination.”

Amy Gordon

Solicitor, Employment



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