The government is considering proposals that workers who are pregnant, on maternity leave, or have returned from maternity leave within six months, should be protected from redundancy.
The proposals made in the Women and Equalities Committee’s Report on workplace pregnancy follows claims that pregnancy related discrimination has doubled over the past ten years.
In January the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, Margot James, described this as unacceptable and stated that the government will bring forward proposals to protect pregnant workers and those returning from maternity leave.
The 2010 Equality Act does prevent unfavourable treatment of pregnant women from the start of their pregnancy up to the end of their maternity leave.
Furthermore, pregnant women and those on maternity leave should be given priority consideration for redeployment to other vacant posts during a redundancy consultation process.
However these latest proposals go further.
They would put a blanket ban on putting anyone on maternity leave, or who have returned from it for a period of six months, at risk of redundancy.
Whilst the idea of protecting pregnant women should be welcomed, there are concerns that during a selective redundancy process, employers may be forced to lose skilled and capable workers in preference of one who is protected under these maternity entitlements, causing serious damage to a business.
In addition, disability rights campaigners also believe that they have a claim for similar protection.
Both disability and pregnancy are protected under the Equality Act, and it could be argued that for the purpose of harmonising equality law, both should be treated the same.
There are employers who still use attendance records as part of a redundancy selection criteria, despite the Equality Act preventing unfavourable treatment on grounds of disability.
Disability campaigners would argue that if pregnant women are protected from redundancy, the same protection should be extended to those with long term physical or mental health problems, that affect their ability to carry out day to day activities.