For many years, the law has granted extra protection from redundancy to those on maternity, adoption, or shared parental leave. They are given preferential treatment and have the right of first refusal for any suitable alternative roles in a redundancy situation. The law is about to change.

The Maternity Leave, Adoption Leave and Shared Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024 come into force on 6th April 2024.

What is changing?

Pregnant employees do not currently share the protection those on maternity leave have. The extended protection  begins  from the point they inform their employer of the pregnancy (provided that is on or after April 6, 2024) until maternity leave starts. In rare cases where the employee is not entitled to statutory maternity leave, the protection ends two weeks after the end of the pregnancy.

The protection continues during maternity leave and on their return to work for a period of 18 months from the date of childbirth (or 18 months from the first day of the expected week of childbirth if the employer has not been informed of the actual date of childbirth). Currently, protection only applies to the time they are absent on maternity leave.

Employees on Statutory adoption leave will have this protection during the leave and on their return to work for the period of 18 months after the date the child is placed with the employee for adoption (or enters Great Britain if an overseas adoption).

Those taking statutory shared parental leave are protected during that leave and, if the employee has taken more than six consecutive weeks of shared parental leave, on their return to work for the period of 18 months after the date the child is born or placed with the employee for adoption (or enters Great Britain if an overseas adoption).

Failure to offer available suitable alternative vacancies to protected employees may result in the dismissal being automatically unfair, and also creates a risk of discrimination claims (where compensation is uncapped).

Employers should be mindful of these changes when implementing redundancies on or after April 6, 2024 as the numbers of employees protected will likely be much higher. One consequence of the change is that there is an increased risk of there being more protected employees at risk of redundancy than there are available suitable alternative vacancies. This is a complex problem, and the right solution will vary depending on all the facts. We recommend taking detailed advice if this situation arises.

What do you need to do?

  • If you have a redundancy policy and it already refers to redundancy protection, update it to reflect the new regulations.
  • Make sure you do not forget employees in a redundancy scenario, It can easily be done given the lengthy 18-month period of protection. Consider placing reminders on employee records against those who have taken leave setting out their period of extended protection.
  • Inform managers of the extension of this special status so that it can be factored into redundancy proposals at an early stage.

27th March 2024

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