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The new employment bill – does it mark a change for women at work?

The new employment bill – does it mark a change for women at work?

The new employment bill, affirmed by the Queen during the state opening of parliament, is set to take effect over the next coming months.  The bill is proposed to make things easier within the workplace and enhance much needed protection for women and those in need of flexible working solutions.

What has been outlined in the new employment bill?

The government says it will enhance workers’ rights by supporting flexible working alongside other initiatives that promise to bring with them a positive change. The main elements of the proposed Employment Bill include:

  • The right for workers to request a more stable contract

  • Extended redundancy protections to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination

  • Extended leave for neonatal care

  • One weeks’ additional leave for unpaid carers

  • The creation of a new single enforcement body to protect workers’ rights

  • Flexible working by default, unless employers have a good reason not to allow this (subject to consultation).

Extended redundancy protections

Contrary to popular belief, pregnant employees do not have any automatic protection from a genuine redundancy neither do individuals taking a period of maternity leave.  It is currently possible to terminate employment by way of redundancy regardless of whether the employee is pregnant or on maternity leave given the process is undertaken fairly without the principal reason being connected to the pregnancy, a pregnancy related health condition or leave.  The Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999 do hold provisions to ensure pregnant employees and individuals away on maternity leave are granted more favourable treatment during a redundancy process. The regulations state that where possible an alternative role should be offered over redundancy; however, this is not always the case and a suitable alternative is not always available. 

The number of redundancy cases presented to the Employment Tribunal by pregnant employees and individuals on maternity leave for unfair treatment during a redundancy process is alarmingly high and this is something Carrie-Ann Randall, one of our employment solicitors, is all too familiar with.

Carrie-Ann has hands on experience in representing multiple cases where women have been automatically unfairly dismissed and discriminated against for being terminated due to pregnancy and/or maternity leave. Naraine v Smart Medical Clinics Ltd and Rigney v Larchmont Ltd are two examples to take a look at.

Flexible Working

With regards to Flexible Working, as matters stand any employee with over 26 week's continuous service can make a flexible working request, to a maximum of one request per year.

There is no automatic right to flexible working. However, you do have the right to request it.  Such a request could be to change to the hours you work, change the times you work or to be able to work from home. 

As an employer you should contact the employee directly and arrange a meeting to discuss their application and provide your decision. 

An employer can refuse the request, but only on one of eight specific business grounds, which as follows:

  • the burden of additional costs 

  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff 

  • an inability to recruit additional staff 

  • a detrimental impact on quality 

  • a detrimental impact on performance 

  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand 

  • insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work 

  • Planned structural changes to the business.

An employee can appeal a decision if they believe the decision has been incorrectly assessed and determined.  If an application for flexible working is made as a result of childcare commitments and/or caring responsibilities, refusal without foundation could amount to an act of discrimination.

What does the new employment bill look like form a legal perspective?

Hearing the proposals to provide more protection for pregnant employees, individuals taking maternity leave and those who require flexible working solutions (statistically these are mainly females) is excellent as it recognises the need to give women better protection and balance in terms of being able to maintain a working balance and motherhood.

Personnel Today reports that three-quarters of mothers with dependent children are in work – a record high for the UK, according to the latest official figures.  Between April and June 2019 75.1% of mothers in the UK were working.  Almost 3 in 10 (28.5%) mothers and 4.8% of fathers with a child aged 14 and under had reduced their working hours due to childcare implications. More than half (56.2%) of mothers had made some sort of change to their employment because of their parental responsibilities, compared with 22.4% of fathers.  This is a clear demonstration of the drastic changes women make to their chosen careers because of their inability to work flexibly alongside their childcare commitments. 

Personnel Today reported also 3 in 10 parents said they faced some sort of obstacle in fulfilling their childcare responsibilities within their work life. Long working hours was the main barrier to balancing childcare and their career effectively. 

If the introduction of the new Employment Bill can overcome this, it will certainly support the growth of working women, allowing better opportunities, equality and ultimately growth in the economy

Carrie-Ann Randall our very own Women’s Health and Rights expert says “it’s fantastic to live in an age where these kinds of issues are finally being addressed and is a promising sign that yet more change is to come. It may have a been a slow process, with some real thought as to how this can be implemented and monitored, but times are certainly changing at last”.

If you have any concerns regarding the issues raised in this article or wish to find out more information, we can help. Please remember there are strict time limits in Employment claims, and you should take free legal advice as soon as possible. Please contact Carrie Ann Randall on crandall@lawson-west.co.uk.

 

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