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Dispelling the myths about pregnancy, maternity leave and redundancy

Most employers know that women who are pregnant or on maternity leave have special rights. What is less well understood is how those rights play out if the woman is facing redundancy. Unwitting mistakes in can lead to potentially costly tribunal cases, so it's important for managers to separate myth from reality and get to grips with the law.

Unsurprisingly, employers in the past have been very cautious about making women who are pregnant or on maternity leave redundant. But it's a myth that it is unlawful to do so. To be lawful, the redundancy must be genuine with no suitable alternative work available. Neither can the pregnancy or maternity leave be the reason for the redundancy.

The question about what is genuine is clearer cut than it sounds. Consider a situation where a manager knows there are no part-time roles but suspects a woman returning from maternity leave will want to go part-time and consequently makes her redundant.

This would not be a genuine reason for two reasons. An unfounded assumption has been made about the woman's intentions, when employers should be keeping contact with employees, especially if there's a risk of redundancy. Secondly, a person's status as part-time or full-time should not affect whether or not their position is to be made redundant.

When cutbacks have to be made, it's tempting for employers to ask pregnant staff and those on maternity leave to 'volunteer' for redundancy first. But that would be singling them out for different or detrimental treatment, and could be construed as pressuring too.

Another myth is that organisations with only a handful of staff are exempt from maternity protection legislation. The truth is that the protection laws apply to all employers regardless of size.

To put both employers and employees straight on the subject, Acas and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have jointly published a detailed guide: Managing redundancy for pregnant employees or those on maternity leave.

Acas offers training courses on redundancy and restructuring and handling difficult conversations, and can help your business with tailored advice on Redundancy and notice: how Acas can help.

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