In February, the Women and Equalities Committee published their report on the gendered economic impact of Covid-19.
The report addressed areas such as the labour market, young people, pregnancy and maternity discrimination and childcare, as well as the extent to which gender equality has been embedded into policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report found that the pandemic had disproportionately affected women, and that while the Government had “acted at considerable speed to protect jobs”, both the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self Employed Income Support Scheme overlook the “specific and well-understood labour market and caring inequalities faced by women.” In addition, the Government’s priorities for recovery are “heavily gendered in nature” and “skewed towards male-dominated sectors”.
Now the Government has responded, and although it recognises the unequal nature of the difficulties faced by women during the pandemic, many of the WEC’s recommendations were rejected. Those that were rejected include a review of the adequacy of SSP, amendments to Form HR1 to capture protected characteristic information and the funding of training schemes aimed at women in certain fields.
The Government will, however, consider making amendments to the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 to remove the 26-week service requirement for making a flexible working request and a consultation will be issued in due course. The Government stated it remains “committed” to bringing forward an Employment Bill “when parliamentary time allows”. However, there was no mention of an Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech of 11 May, so it remains to be seen if and when the amendments come to pass.
The Government says it still intends to extend the redundancy protection period for mothers on maternity leave. Such protection will apply to pregnant women and those who return to work and will remain in place for a period six months. It will also cover those taking adoption and shared parental leave. The measures will be brought forward “as soon as Parliamentary time allows”.
We know that women have faced additional workplaces challenges during the pandemic, so what might you do as an employer to alleviate those challenges while balancing the needs of your business?
We know that flexible working arrangements can assist greatly for those with childcare responsibilities. Consider whether the employee’s job needs to be carried out within core business hours or whether certain tasks can be carried out before or after normal working hours, allowing for periods of home-schooling or to assist with a lack of wrap around care. Also, consider whether your working environment presents particular issues for women who are pregnant. Are you carrying out full health and safety and risk assessments and are there any employees who it might be appropriate to suspend (on full pay) on medical grounds (i.e. because they are in a high-risk role, or because they are in their third trimester of pregnancy)?
If you do find yourself in the difficult position of needing to make redundancies, ensure you understand the complexities around pregnancy and maternity. Help yourself to avoid claims of discrimination or unfair dismissal further down the line by implementing a fair and transparent redundancy process.
Finally, take the time to really understand the issues faced by female employees in your workplace and have clear guidance and support in place from your line managers and HR staff. We all know the importance of good employee relations and it is even more important now, when the world of work looks very different to how it did just over a year ago.
To speak to us about your employment issues, whether to do with strategic business decisions or a particular issue involving an employee, get in touch with Emma Cocker or another member of our Employment Law team (0330 311 1950).