On 3 March 2023, the House of Lords is due to consider the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill at second reading. The bill is a private member’s bill first introduced in the House of Commons on 15 June 2022 by Dan Jarvis (Labour MP for Barnsley Central). Baroness Bertin (Conservative) is the bill’s sponsor in the House of Lords.
In 2015, research commissioned by the government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 77% of 3,254 mothers surveyed said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy or maternity leave, or when returning to work from maternity leave. Of those surveyed, 11% reported they had felt forced to leave their job. If scaled up to the general population, the report said this could equate to as many as 54,000 mothers a year.
Certain pregnancy, maternity and/or other family leave protections are already enshrined in law. The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for a person to discriminate against a woman on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity. Additionally, before an employer can make an employee on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave redundant, redundancy protection regulations require the employer to give that employee first refusal on a suitable alternative vacancy where one exists.
Following a consultation in 2019, the government announced it would extend redundancy protections provided for by regulations. This included ensuring that redundancy protection applied at the point an employee told their employer that they are pregnant. The government also committed to extend the redundancy protection period for six months after an employee returned to work from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave. The Queen’s Speech 2019 contained a government commitment to introduce an Employment Bill that would extend redundancy protections to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination, amongst other things. To date, the Employment Bill has not been introduced, nor was it included in the Queen’s Speech in 2021 or 2022. In November 2022, the government said it would introduce the Employment Bill when parliamentary time allowed.
Baroness Bertin’s private member’s bill would enable the secretary of state to make regulations about protection from redundancy during and after pregnancy, and six months after returning from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave. The bill received its second reading in the House of Commons on 21 October 2022. The House of Commons approved a money resolution on 31 October 2022. It was considered in public bill committee for one day on 2 November 2022. As no amendments were made at committee stage, the bill was reported without amendment and progressed straight to third reading on 3 February 2023.
The bill received support from both the government and MPs from various parties during its passage through the House of Commons. However, some charities have argued that the bill would have a limited impact if existing problems in the legal system were not also addressed.