Consultation On Extending Redundancy Protection For New Parents

A recent study by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found that one in nine returning to work after maternity leave were fired, made redundant, or treated in a manner which forced them to leave their job. The study also found that as many as 54,000 women per year are losing their jobs as a result of their pregnancy or maternity leave.

With Brexit fast approaching, Theresa May is said to be "determined to do even more as we leave the EU", including by building on the current EU requirements on maternity and paternity leave protection.

The government is now seeking views on plans to help protect new mums returning to work from the risk of redundancy. Currently, new mothers have additional protection in redundancy situations arising during maternity leave. If their position is made redundant during maternity leave, they are entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy in priority over other affected employees. The new proposals are that this protection is extended so as to cover the period of pregnancy and a period after of up to 6 months from their return to work.

As more parents choose to share care equally, the consultation is also seeking views on whether similar protection should be offered to parents upon their return from adoption leave or shared parental leave.

In the meantime, employers should ensure that, when carrying out a redundancy process, they do not treat those on maternity leave unfairly, or in a manner that could give rise to a discrimination claim.

Victory For Asda Shop Workers In The Court Of Appeal

This week the Court of Appeal handed down its judgment on comparability in the case of Asda Stores Ltd v Brierley and others [2019] EWCA Civ 44, which is the UK's largest ever private sector equal pay claim. The court concluded that Asda's predominantly female shop workers are entitled to compare themselves with Asda's predominantly male warehouse workers, when making their claims of equal pay for work of equal value.

In summary, Asda's position was that because it set the more favourable terms and conditions for the warehouse workers separately to the terms and conditions of the shop workers, the two pay regimes were distinct and incomparable. This argument was resoundingly rejected by the Court of Appeal who found that the comparison was valid applying both domestic and European law.

The decision is important for the future of equal pay claims because it makes clear that employers cannot avoid liability through the physical separation of male-dominated and female-dominated workforces.

In the Isle of Man, the right to bring a claim for equal pay for work of equal value will come into force on 1 January 2020 under the provisions of the Equality Act 2017.

Many employers should take note of the gathering force of equal pay claims in the UK and take steps to ensure that they operate pay equality within their organisations. 

2018 UK Annual Report On Modern Slavery

The UK government has published its 2018 UK Annual Report on Modern Slavery, providing a detailed overview of how UK companies have responded to modern slavery issues in the last year, since the introduction of the reporting requirement under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

Companies with a UK operation and revenues of over £36 million are required to publish a statement on their website within six months of their financial year-end about their approach to modern slavery. Modern slavery is an often hidden crime that includes slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour and human trafficking. Labour exploitation typically involves poor working conditions, extremely low pay and some form of coercion.

The Report identifies the following significant developments in the last year:

  • Large companies are implementing and publishing the steps they are taking to identify, tackle and prevent modern slavery. In particular, there have been sector-led initiatives such as “Tech Against Trafficking,” in which technology companies and nongovernmental organisations have paired up to examine how technology can help eradicate modern slavery.
  • An increase in enforcement action under the Act. In 2017, 130 defendants were prosecuted — almost three times as many as in 2016.
  • An increase in the availability of specialist and financial support and advocacy services to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.

The UK government has commissioned an independent review of the Act that will consider whether it should be updated or strengthened in specific areas. This review is due to be published in March 2019.

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