Acas Guide on Managing Redundancy for Pregnant Employees or those on Maternity leave.
The UK has experienced a boom in the birth rate recently and this has led to many employers having to navigate through the complex law of considering making members of their workforce redundant, some of whom may be pregnant or on maternity leave, during a tough economic climate.
In employment law, a woman has a “protected period” in which she is entitled to be treated differently from other employees if it is necessary to make good any disadvantage she may otherwise experience during the time she is pregnant or on maternity leave. It is key that the employer uses the right selection criteria to select redundant employees, to avoid claims anyway, but it has to also consider whether there are any suitable alternative vacancies to be offered to a woman who is on maternity leave, as under current employment law, she is entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy before any other employee is offered the vacancy.
An employer who fails to follow the correct procedure in selecting an employee (because she is pregnant or on maternity leave) or failing to offer a suitable alternative vacancy, could face claims of automatic unfair dismissal and unlawful discrimination.
So what can an employer do on a practical level to avoid a claim?
- Communicate! Make sure that you keep in touch with your employee (with her consent of course). This might include inviting her along to a staff event whilst she is off on maternity leave, or to keep in touch with her by email to let her know of any changes to the workforce. It may be appropriate to have a company policy on keeping in touch with employees on maternity leave (or, indeed, any long term absence) and why not ask for input from your employees for this policy?
- Although statistically, most business owners assume that a pregnant employee will not return to work, you must make sure that you offer the same opportunities for training and development, as the employee may want to return to work and you could face a claim if you have not provided her with the same opportunity to develop her skills as the other employees.
- Recognise everyone’s efforts and contribution and plan as much as possible. Easier said than done, but hopefully once you have a business plan on how to deal with maternity leave absence, you can use it again in the future to ensure your business continues to run effectively and can adapt to changes in your workforce. If an employee returns to work and works flexibly, it may give you the opportunity to use job sharing or give another an employee an opportunity to handle more complex work.
- Review your redundancy procedures to make sure the pool of employees who are at risk of redundancy is accurate and make sure you have clear, objective selection criteria applied to each employee who is at risk of redundancy to avoid claims of discrimination or unfair dismissal.
Acas has published a helpful guide available from its website www.acas.org.uk, which provides further information, but if you wish to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact Sarah Liddiard, Solicitor on 01582 514000 or [email protected]