5 April 2019
Government plan will not prevent new mothers being ‘pushed out’, argues CILEx
Government plans to extend redundancy protections for women returning to work after maternity leave do not address the underlying discrimination that has left many pregnant women and new mothers “pushed out,” “side-lined” and “punished for being a mother”, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) has said.
Whilst supporting government proposals to extend redundancy protections for six to nine months after an employee returns to work, CILEx said this measure alone was unlikely to prevent the poor treatment experienced by maternity returners, particularly given the barriers faced by those attempting to challenge their employers.
Its response to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy consultation drew on first-hand accounts from CILEx members of discrimination once they returned to work after having children.
CILEx highlighted instances in which it appeared employers strategically waited for statutory time limits to pass before making new mothers redundant.
Anecdotal data also suggested that, upon return to work, the role and scope of employment duties were unreasonably changed, with little help or support, and respondents felt a knock-on impact limiting their prospects of promotion or career development.
Even if statutory protections are extended, CILEx raises concerns that these practices may continue without wider efforts to counter discriminatory behaviours in the workplace.
It called on government to “strengthen the enforcement mechanisms available to pregnant women and new mothers who are facing a range of barriers when trying to challenge workplace decisions”.
The response argues that pregnant women and new mothers struggle to enforce their rights through fear of recriminations, being blacklisted by future employers and an absence of legal support. They often lack clear legal grounds or proof of insidious treatment and are put off due to the financial risk.
One CILEx member recounted: “A restructure of my previous employer led to redundancy with no alternative position offered to me in the new company. The member of staff who had replaced me for maternity cover was kept on.”
Another explained how, when she finished her maternity leave, she was told there was no position for her to return to: “As a mother of three daughters, one born extremely prematurely, I would say if you feel discriminated against, trust your instincts and report it. With all my pregnancies and subsequent returns to work I have witnessed a lack of empathy and different levels of discrimination, some more unconscious than others. The presumptions made by managers and co-workers have been very hurtful.
“With a small child to care for it was emotionally and financially challenging to fight an unfair dismissal claim, particularly as I was working through an agency in an international organisation where other positions weren’t available. Many women will be deterred by the difficulty of the process. I hope the government will take action to ensure that women are protected from discrimination at work and encourage women to speak out about their experiences. Due to the imbalance of power between employer and employee there is high risk of injustice.”
CILEx pointed to other legal jurisdictions such as Germany, where redundancy cannot be made during pregnancy without first securing consent from competent public authorities.
Members also suggested that enforcement could be benefitted by the availability of legal aid, the introduction of new monitoring and reporting mechanisms, and an out-of-court mechanism for imposing fines/sanctions on employers who fail to abide by these protections.
CILEx President Phillip Sherwood says: “These reforms need to be sensitive to the acute needs of pregnant women and new parents who are likely to be experiencing a time where their emotional and financial resources are strained.
“The experience of our members, both as practitioners and working mothers, is that discrimination is commonplace, with companies able to circumvent existing protections and employees struggling to enforce their rights.
“We would like to see parallel reforms implemented to improve access to justice within the employment tribunal, better enforcement measures taken against companies who make redundancies during pregnancy and maternity leave, and efforts made to improve awareness amongst employees of their rights.”
For further information, please contact:
Kerry Jack, Black Letter Communications on 07525 756 599 or email:
Louise Eckersley, Black Letter Communications on 0203 567 1208 or email:
Notes to Editors:
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) is one of the three main professional bodies covering the legal profession in England and Wales. The 20,000-strong membership is made up of Chartered Legal Executives, paralegals and other legal professionals.
CILEx members are regulated through an independent body, CILEx Regulation. It is the only regulator covering paralegals.
CILEx provides training, with qualifications open to those holding GCSEs, A levels or a degree. Over 100,000 students have chosen CILEx over the last 25 years, with the majority studying whilst in full or part-time employment.
CILEx provides a non-graduate route to qualification as a lawyer, although graduates are also welcomed and the Graduate Fast-track Diploma offers a more affordable and viable alternative to the LPC.
Those who complete the full CILEx qualification are known as Chartered Legal Executives. They can become partners in law firms, coroners, judges or advocates in open court.
The membership is diverse – 75% of members are women and 14% are from a BAME background.