BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT 28 images JUNE 2024 Expert advice on the business of running a garment decoration company Q&A What do I need to know about the recent changes to redundancy law and how should I prepare for them? Most employers will be aware that employees on maternity leave, shared parental leave or adoption leave have special protections in a redundancy situation. They have the right to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy, if one is available, before being made redundant. This gives employees on these types of leave priority access to job vacancies or new roles over other redundant employees. Until recently, this special protection was limited to the period that the employee was on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave. What has changed? On 6 April 2024, The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 came into force. The new legislation extends this special protection as regards alternative employment to pregnant employees and those who have recently returned from maternity, adoption and shared parental leave as follows: ■ Pregnancy Protection will start when an employee tells their employer they are pregnant. ■ Maternity leave The protection commences when leave starts and will end 18 months after the child is due to be born. ■ Adoption leave The protection commences when leave starts and will end 18 months after the child’s placement. ■ Shared parental leave Employees must not have taken maternity or adoption leave for this protection to apply. If the employees have taken six or more consecutive weeks of shared parental leave, the protection will apply during the period of leave and will end 18 months after the date of the child’s birth or placement. When do the changes apply? The new protection applies to pregnancies notified to an employer on or after 6 April 2024 and maternity/adoption leave ending on or after 6 April 2024. In respect of shared parental leave, the new protection applies to employees taking at least six weeks of shared parental leave which begins on or after 6 April 2024. If you have an employee who has notified you of a pregnancy or started leave shortly before these dates, extra care should be taken to ensure that the employer is applying the correct version of the rules. Preparing for the changes It is important for employers to understand how the new rules will work in practice. Failure to adhere to these new rules may mean that any dismissal on grounds of redundancy is automatically unfair and potentially discriminatory. Employees do not need two years’ service to bring these claims and compensation is uncapped. Getting it wrong may be costly and cause reputational damage to the business. Practical tips for employers to consider include: 1. Careful planning of restructuring and redundancies exercises. Given the extended protections, larger numbers of employees will possibly be eligible for protection at any given time. Employers should ensure that their records are kept up to date so that there is no scope to forget that an employee remains entitled to protection, even after they have returned to work. 2. Employers will also need to be mindful of taking steps to ensure that suitable alternative are identified so that employers do not inadvertently fail to offer a suitable alternative where one exists. This can be made more complicated in group companies where managers handling the redundancy process may not be aware of all opportunities across the business. It may therefore be necessary for employers to consider where information about vacant and new roles can be located by relevant managers. 3. Employers should consider updating family leave and redundancy policies to reflect the new rule, and ensuring that all managers and staff are aware of the updates. 4. Managers who might be involved in redundancy exercises should be given information and training about the new rules so that they can be factored into any planning processes. Managers should also be advised on how to deal with situations where other employees who are not subject to the special protections find their colleague’s priority access to job vacancies unfair. 5. The new protection is not the only issue for employers to consider when redundancy proposals affect new or expectant parents. Employers should be able to show that an employee has not been disadvantaged in a redundancy selection process because they are pregnant or have taken a period of family leave. Employees should also be given the same access to information and consultation as employees who are working in the business at the time of the redundancies. Failure to follow a fair redundancy process can lead to employment tribunal claims. Nicola Smyrl is a partner at Taylor Walton Solicitors, a multi-service, award-winning law firm, with offices in St Albans, Harpenden, and Luton. The new legislation extends this special protection