Employers making redundancies have long had to keep in mind that women on maternity leave have enhanced rights in a redundancy situation. Those rights are now going to be extended both for pregnant employees and for other new parents, extending redundancy protection. Any employer considering redundancies needs to know what their obligations are.

What’s the driver for the new law?

The legislation originated from several investigations into the experiences of pregnant women in the workplace. Research previously published by the (then) Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported that each year, 54,000 pregnant women feel they are treated differently due to their pregnancy, 1 in 9 pregnant women face dismissal, compulsory redundancy, or alleged mistreatment forcing them to leave their job and 1 in 5 mothers report receiving harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working.

What is the current position?

If a redundancy situation arises whilst an employee is on maternity leave and it becomes not reasonably practicable for them to return to their existing position, that employee is entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy where one is available. This gives them prior rights over other employees at risk of redundancy and a failure to comply with this obligation will give rise to a claim for automatically unfair dismissal. However, the protection is lost as soon as maternity leave comes to an end.

The same enhanced rights apply to an employee on adoption leave or shared parental leave, again ending when the period of leave ends.

What is the new legislation?

The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 received Royal Assent on 24 May 2023. It inserts a new provision to the Employment Rights Act 1996, under which Government can make regulations regarding redundancy during a “protected period of pregnancy” and after maternity, adoption and shared parental leave.

After multiple attempts to pass similar legislation in the last three years, the Act came into force on 24 July 2023. In December 2023 draft regulations were laid out before Parliament to give effect to the new redundancy protections, which are due to take effect on 6 April 2024.

What does the new, extended redundancy protection look like?

The draft Maternity Leave, Adoption Leave and Shared Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024 set out that the enhanced redundancy protection rights apply to pregnant employees and employees after maternity, adoption and shared parental leave as follows:

  • Maternity leave – the protected period will cover pregnancy and 18 months following the first day of the estimated week of childbirth (or 18 months from the exact date of birth if an employee is given notice of this date before the end of maternity leave);
  • Adoption leave – 18 months following placement for adoption; and
  • Shared parental leave – 18 months from birth, providing the parent has taken a period of at least 6 consecutive weeks of shared parental leave. If the employee is already protected under the pregnancy, maternity or adoption leave rights above, these will take priority.

Alongside those already protected, these groups will be given priority consideration for alternate employment within the company when facing redundancy.

It should be noted that the Regulations are in draft form currently and may therefore be subject to change.

What about paternity leave?

Paternity leave is not included within the new legislation, presumably because the period of paternity leave is limited to two weeks so it is unlikely that any significant redundancy developments would arise and need to be concluded within that timeframe.

What’s the timeline on the regulations?

The new regulations are expected to come into force on 6 April 2024. Pregnant employees will benefit from the extension to the protected period where the employer is informed of the pregnancy on or after this date. The new right will apply to employees on maternity and adoption leave ending on, or after 6 April 2024. The regulations will also protect those starting shared parental leave on, or after, 6 April 2024. Whilst this means there is currently no obligation on employers to comply with the new provisions, employers contemplating redundancies would be wise to have these in mind and those with written redundancy policies may wish to look at how they will accommodate these changes.

Overall, the legislation takes significant steps to protect individuals who may be more vulnerable to redundancy. It comes in addition to other Private Members’ Bills recently coming into force, including the Carer’s Leave Act (see our article here) and the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill.


If you need assistance to adapt your redundancy policy or have any further questions regarding redundancy protection,  for more general advice in what is a rapidly developing area of employment law, please feel free to contact our Employment Team and we would be happy to help.