Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

When it comes to legal rights for women, we’ve come a long way in terms of social progression and developing the law.  Although, most will admit that there is still a lot to do in order to promote women’s rights further and to ensure that effective family friendly policies are available for both men and women in the workplace.

I was touched to read this BBC news article about a working mother with 4 children under the age of three and another child who is aged 11: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-47484237.  It is clear from the comments made that the support that has been provided by her employer is invaluable to this family. 

Legally, employers do of course have to consider eligible flexible working requests and can only refuse them based on prescribed grounds.  Although, some employers will choose to go further than the letter of the law and the news story mentioned above shows that supporting parents (men and women) through flexible working is a great way for businesses to inspire loyalty and appreciation from staff in the long-term. 

The Government also appears to be keen to extend women’s rights further in hte workplace and other family friendly rights.   In case you haven’t seen them, recent proposals for legal changes (hopefully showing that we are headed in the right direction) include:

  • The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 is expected to come into effect in April 2020 and will enhance protection for those who sadly lose a child.  The legislation will ensure that all employed parents will be entitled to the right to two weeks' leave if they lose a child under the age of 18 or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy and this will be available as a day one right;
  • Consultation on extending redundancy protection for women and new parents.   Currently, if a woman on maternity leave is selected for redundancy, she must be given priority over other employees at risk when the employer offers suitable alternative employment.   The Government's latest consultation paper is proposing to extend this right to women who have returned from maternity leave in the previous 6 months and those women who have informed their employer that they are pregnant. For more details, you can read my colleague’s, Laura Pointon, recent blog about this by following this link: http://insights.brabners.com/post/102fdut/working-mothers-possible-enhancements-on-maternity-protection-is-there-a-change;
  • New statutory code of practice on sexual harassment being considered. In its response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee's report on sexual harassment in the workplace from 18 December 2018, the Government announced action points to address the issue of sexual harassment.  One of those actions includes asking the Equality and Human Rights Commission to develop a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment to help businesses demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment taking place;
  • Publication of family friendly policies.  On 1 October 2018, the Government announced plans to consult on potentially requiring employers with more than 250 employees to make public details of their parental leave and pay policies.  Although, the expectation is that this is likely to extend to the publication of other family friendly policies as well.

This is all positive news. 

Although, the real difficulty in ensuring that the law actually has some bite and force in practice.  For example, gender pay gap reporting has undoubtedly highlighted that there is still much work to be done.  Affected employers must analyse their gender pay gap each April and publish their gender pay gap report and other items within 12 months.   Although, many have criticised the lack of repercussions for businesses that fail to do this and the lack of required action for improving the gender pay gaps identified.   Concerns also remain about gender equality and diversity at senior levels in businesses in particular. 

It’s clear that the issue of gender equality and diversity is becoming more high profile with time and the hope is that the Government will continue to make changes to ensure that the law can support both men and women with this.  Keep an eye out for more changes to come and, in the meantime, enjoy the celebrations today! 

As ever, if you would like any more information about the changes mentioned above or advice about any other employment law matter, please do get in touch with me at emma.james@brabners.com.