Annabel: While women are making their maternity plans and working out how to return full time, make a flexible working request and so on, employers themselves are making plans and responding to events. Recently a lot of those plans have included redundancy.
Laura: It is a really tough time for everyone at the moment. I had an enquiry recently from a small business owner who was so worried about a member of staff announcing her pregnancy. As part of her job role she needed to lift heavy items and he didn’t have an alternative role. The ironic thing was that the woman no longer wanted to work there and was really stressing about how to tell them that she wanted to leave. In a smaller environment it pays to talk early on.
Annabel: We often get employers trying to use redundancy as a way round a difficult situation. Redundancy is a form of dismissal, and if it is not done for genuine reasons, it can lead to unfair dismissal, even discrimination claims. There are a lot of myths out there about who is entitled to what. Some pregnant women believe they can’t be dismissed for redundancy or anything else. Some managers know that women on maternity leave have additional rights but aren’t sure what.
Laura: There is certainly a belief that once you are pregnant and have announced it you can’t be ‘touched.’ My experience is that companies, although more sensitive to the possibility of a lawyer’s letter, will still make a pregnant member of staff redundant if they have a valid case to do so. It may seem insensitive, but it is no worse than letting go a new father that is also responsible for a family income. These decisions are rarely taken lightly. What pregnancy can’t be is an excuse to make someone redundant because they can’t do the job they are paid to do.
Annabel: We often get employers discovering that the maternity locum is better than the regular employee, or that life is so much easier without a particular individual, but without a good record of problems and attempts to remedy them, any rapid action is bound to end in a tribunal claim. Maternity leave is a moment when a lot of performance management issues` come home to roost’ and earlier failure to tackle problems in real time can cause complications. It is bound to appear that pregnancy is the real issue if there is nothing to contradict this, and let’s face it, sometimes it is.
Laura: So are there any special rights for pregnant women, or are they just entitled to be treated the same as everyone else?
Annabel: From conception to return to work at the end of maternity leave, women are protected from being treated worse than non pregnant females or male colleagues because of their pregnancy. A pregnant woman caught red handed for theft for example could not say her dismissal was because of her pregnancy. A woman can be treated appropriately for her actions or the status of her role whilst pregnant. That means she can be put at risk of, or even selected for redundancy.
Laura: Is that it? Why do we hear such a fuss about this in the media then?
Annabel: Women do have additional redundancy rights once they start maternity leave. During the entire period they are entitled to be offered a suitable alternative role if vacant. Ordinary employees at risk of redundancy are entitled to be considered for alternative roles, which means they come second in the queue. Offers should be made during maternity leave. The woman will then be on leave from her new role. Employers who wait until the time to return and then find all their alternative roles are gone may find themselves on the wrong end of a tribunal claim.
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Posted by on 22/07/2011 12:39:15
Jackie Groundsell is known as the queen of women's business networking lunches - the Connector. She supports thousands of small business owners through her events and lunch-time meetings