A recent survey conducted by Direct Line Insurance revealed a worrying increase in the number of mums and dads experiencing discrimination at work on their return from maternity and paternity leave.
Seventy per cent of employment lawyers who responded to the survey said they had seen a rise in the number of cases of women being sacked while on maternity leave, while 80% said they’d seen an increase in the use of non-disclosure agreements by employers following disputes relating to maternity or pregnancy.
Two-thirds of those surveyed reported cases of male workers being demoted after taking paternity leave.
Many employers do exhibit a lack of confidence and knowledge when it comes to managing maternity and paternity leave which can lead to claims of discrimination at work.
The fact is that both are a right for new parents who should not find themselves penalised as a result of taking leave that they are entitled to.
Sometimes situations occur while a woman is on maternity leave, for example restructures in response to changing business need, and employers can panic about unfair dismissal or discrimination claims
The key is to follow a clear and fair process making sure that the employee who is on maternity leave is kept fully informed every step of the way and, where possible, offered a suitable alternative job.
If there is a suitable post available, the employee who is on maternity leave does not need to apply for the job. They are entitled to be offered it. This is because a woman on maternity leave might not be able to apply for jobs or attend interviews and might, therefore be at a disadvantage.
If no alternative role is available, redundancy will apply and the process should be carried out in the usual way.
Fathers meanwhile are entitled to one or two consecutive weeks’ paid paternity leave if they have worked for their employer for 26 continuous weeks before the 14th week before the birth of their baby.
Paternity leave can be taken any time between the baby being born and 56 days after the birth (or due date if the baby is early).
Paid paternity leave (on statutory rates) is a parent’s right. It provides the chance to bond and care for the new addition to the family.
Employers and employees need to understand these rights and entitlements to reduce the risk of claims of discrimination at work and ensure absolute clarity around both parties’ expectations.