As the Government announced new plans to ensure pregnant women and new parents have greater protection from redundancy, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) complained that the self-employed have again been overlooked.

Protection laws set for extension

While laws already exist to protect pregnant women and new mothers on maternity leave from redundancy, the Government is now consulting on its plans to extend that legal protection for 6 months—and possibly, to parents returning from adoption leave or shared parental leave.

The move comes after research commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), found 1 in 9 women said they had been fired or made redundant when they returned to work after having a child, or were treated so badly they felt forced out of their job. The same research estimated that 54,000 women a year may lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity.

Prime Minister Theresa May called these difficulties “unacceptable” and said the proposals will provide greater protection for new parents in the workplace, and put their minds at ease at an important time.

Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said that although pregnancy and maternity discrimination is illegal, some new mothers still find unacceptable attitudes on their return to work which effectively forces them out of their jobs.

“That’s why we are looking at ways to further protect new parents by giving them time to re-establish themselves in the workplace and show the value they bring to their employers.”

As well as looking at the details of extended protection, the consultation will also discuss the existing approach to the enforcement of employment and equalities legislation (in the context of recommendations from the Women and Equalities Select Committee and the Taylor Review) and the 3-month time limit within which a claim of discrimination can ordinarily be brought to an Employment Tribunal.

Will the new plan solve the problem?

While most interested parties welcome the move, some have reservations.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet founder, said that stronger legal protection “is a very welcome first step” but warned that discrimination against mothers is “a multifaceted problem, requiring a change in attitude and culture as well as legislation.”

Jane van Zyl, CEO of work-life balance charity Working Families, said that whilst many companies already understand the business benefits of family-friendly workplaces, some employers still don’t, even though this isn’t just bad for families, but the economy, too.

“Because more and more parents are sharing care equally, we welcome plans to ensure equal treatment for parents returning from Shared Parental Leave or adoption – bringing their rights in line with those enjoyed by women on maternity leave,” she added.

 

Although Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) national chairman Mike Cherry welcomed the plans, he said that once again, the self-employed have been overlooked and sole traders “left out in the cold” as they enter parenthood.

“These efforts should include meaningful support for the self-employed,” he said, pointing out that presently, self-employed mothers are entitled to less statutory pay than their employee counterparts (and self-employed fathers are entitled to none at all).

“Despite there being more than 1,000 children waiting on the adoption register, requiring expensive foster care placements – the Government provides no support for self-employed people who want to adopt,” he added.

“It’s estimated that bringing support for self-employed adopters in-line with self-employed mothers would only cost the exchequer around £5 million a year.

The FSB’s #ThinkSelfEmployed campaign calls for greater support for the 4.8 million self-employed in the UK and you can find out more here.

The Government’s consultation of this issue runs until 5th April 2019. Want to have your opinions heard? Visit the consultation page to have your say.

Have you encountered discrimination while pregnant, or on returning to work after becoming a parent? Share your experiences.

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