If you’re about to have a baby – or have recently given birth – chances are you’re already worrying about what will happen when you go back to work.
The transition from employment to parenthood and back again leaves many feeling anxious and vulnerable. Not only do you have to deal with a dollop of guilt over leaving your little one, you’re probably also experiencing a hefty dose of self-doubt – can you really still remember how to do your job?
Add to that worries over discrimination and redundancy, and it’s a miracle women work up the nerve to return to the office at all; particularly when research shows 54,000 British women a year may lose their jobs due to pregnancy and maternity.
But things are set to change: under new plans unveiled by ministers to counter discrimination at work, pregnant women and new mums are set to receive even greater job protection than their colleagues.
The proposals, published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, would see the current period of redundancy protection extended from two weeks to six months after they return to work. This protection may also be extended to men who choose to share parental leave, or parents who take time off after adoption.
It comes as Theresa May described pregnancy-related discrimination – which affects one in nine women – as “unacceptable”.
“People in this country already benefit from some of the most rigorous workplace standards in the world, including parental leave and pay entitlements, but we are determined to do even more as we leave the EU,” said May.
It's unacceptable that too many parents still encounter difficulties when returning to work."Theresa May
Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet, welcomed the proposals. “In a 2018 survey, 96% of women we surveyed said having children affected mothers’ careers for the worse,” she said.
“It’s a multifaceted problem requiring a change in attitude and culture, as well as legislation, but stronger legal protection is a very welcome first step.”
However others, such as Joeli Brearley, founder of campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, warned the proposals won’t necessarily help pregnant women being targeted – claiming one in 20 mothers are already made redundant either during pregnancy, whilst off on leave, or immediately after returning to work.
She said it was less a problem with the law, than with tackling problems such as childcare expenses and a lack of flexible working. “More mothers are made redundant when the enhanced protections already exist than when they don’t, proving that the enhanced protections which are already in place are not working, so what is the point of extending them?” she said.
Brearley added that until we create a society where women can be both the “bread winner and care giver”, we will never reduce discrimination in the workplace.
There will now be a 10-week consultation on the proposals.