Emma O'Meara explores The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023, which will extend the priority status of employees on maternity leave, shared parental leave or adoption leave in a redundancy situation to those who are pregnant or returning from these types of leave.

Pregnant employees and those returning from family leave to be given priority status in redundancy situations from April 2024

What does this mean?

From 6 April 2024, employees who are pregnant or returning from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave will all have the right to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy, if one is available, before being made redundant. This gives these employees priority access to redeployment opportunities over other redundant employees.

When does this priority status apply to pregnant women?           

Protection under the new legislation begins when the employer has been notified of pregnancy and 18 months from the child’s date of birth if notified to employer before the end of maternity leave (or 18 months from the Expected Week of Childbirth if not notified).

For women who suffer a miscarriage, the protection ends two weeks after the end of the pregnancy, for pregnancies ending before 24 weeks (as pregnancies ending after 24 weeks are classed as stillbirths and the employee would be entitled to statutory maternity leave).  

What about employees who adopt?

The protection begins at the beginning of adoption leave and ends 18 months from date of placement or date of entry into Great Britain (if overseas adoption).

Is it the same for shared parental leave (SPL)?

A parent needs to take only a minimum of 6 weeks’ consecutive shared parental leave before becoming eligible for 18 months of protection.

How does this affect your business?

You’ll need to bear the above in mind for any restructures taking place after April 2024. There will now be more employees who are potentially going to be given priority status, which may mean you’ll need to carry out a selection process amongst priority status employees at risk of redundancy where there aren’t enough vacancies. Careful consideration will need to be applied here to prevent claims of discrimination.

You may also see a take up of SPL because of the additional protections the employee will benefit from.

It’s important to comply with the law as an employee that isn’t offered a suitable alternative vacancy when they have priority status would have a claim for an automatic unfair dismissal, which would mean a compensatory award that is not capped. There’s also no requirement to have two years’ service to qualify for this type of claim. The employee may also have a claim for discrimination. Given the significant penalties, employers will need to exercise extreme caution and it’s strongly recommended to take legal advice before making redundancies.