Companies could be required to keep jobs open for women on maternity leave for a year under proposals being considered by the Government. The plans will be welcomed by prospective mothers, but have prompted warnings from industry leaders that it will put increased pressure on businesses already suffering from the economic downturn.
New mothers are currently entitled to twelve months' maternity leave, but after six months employers can offer a suitable alternative vacancy rather than the mother's existing job where offering the same job back is not practicable by reason of redundancy. The proposals drawn up by Labour party policy-makers at the National Policy Forum would extend that protection to 12 months.
The proposals follow union demands that women should not be deterred from returning to work, and are said to be backed by Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman.
A Government insider told the Daily Mail: "This is one element in discussions on how we make sure maternity leave is not detrimental to women returning to work."
The Government has already agreed to extend the period of paid maternity leave to a year from 2010. The first six months would have to be taken by the mother, but the second six months could be transferred to the child's father.
James Wright from law firm Irwin Mitchell said: "Maternity rights have been increasing since 1999 and the current proposed changes have been around since before the credit crunch. Mothers returning from maternity leave have always received enhanced protection from redundancy under the law. Employers should take advice before dismissing maternity returners by reason of redundancy."