Last week, the Government published its response to the House of Common’s Petitions Select Committee’s recommendations that certain family-friendly rights be extended in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Committee’s recommendations were published in its report on 6 July 2020 following a 226,000 strong petition calling for the Government to extend maternity leave by three months, with pay, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recommendations and Responses
The Committee made a number of recommendations which the Government has responded to as follows:
- Recommendation to extend maternity and adoption leave and pay.
The Government’s general position is that the current arrangements for family leave and pay are generous and flexible. It considered this recommendation would have a financial impact on employers creating an additional burden on them at a time when many organisations are struggling to save their businesses and jobs.
- Recommendation to prioritise the necessary legislation to extend redundancy protection for women on maternity leave as soon as possible and provide a timetable for its introduction and implementation.
The redundancy protection being referred to here is the statutory right to be treated as a priority in a redundancy situation. The Government confirmed that this does not mean that such employees cannot be made redundant, but rather that they must be given first refusal of suitable, alternative vacancies.
The Government announced in July 2019 that it would introduce legislation to extend the period for of redundancy protection for pregnant women and new mothers from the point at which the woman informs her employer she is pregnant until 6 months after her return from maternity leave. The Government also intends to extend the protection for those on adoption leave and shared parental leave. In its response to the Committee no further clarification was provided about when this would happen, just “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.
- Recommendation to clarify employers’ obligations in respect of pregnant woman who cannot socially distance at work, including making clear that pregnant women have a right to be suspended on full pay if they cannot work safely.
The Government responded to this recommendation by reiterating the Health and Safety Executive guidance on risk assessments and putting in place appropriate measures. The Government confirmed that employers are not required to suspend pregnant employees on full pay if appropriate control measures can be put in place.
- Pilot the new neonatal leave and pay rights in anticipation of their introduction in 2023 as part of the Employment Bill.
The Government rejected this recommendation on the basis that a pilot scheme could not be delivered any sooner than the planned entitlement and would require legislation and regulations to ensure that parents are adequately protected from dismissal or unfair treatment as a result of taking time off work or seeking to take time off work.
- Recommendation to extend the time limit for pregnant women and new parents to bring unfair dismissal claims from three to six months after dismissal, either on a temporary or permanent basis.
The Government confirmed that following on from a consultation last year, the three-month time limit for bringing pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims to an Employment Tribunal is being considered by the Government Equalities Office and a response will be published in due course.
The Response from the Government is not unexpected given its concerns over the impact of the COVID-19 on businesses. Employers will be relieved that at least for the time, their responsibilities in relation to family friendly rights remain unchanged.
If you require any advice on family friendly rights, please contact a member of the team.