Call for parenthood to be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act

Working Families has published a new report that calls for a range of measures to be taken to protect parents’ employment rights.

parents on shared parental leave


A fifth of working parents in the UK feel they have been treated less fairly at work because of their childcare responsibilities since the onset of COVID-19, according to a new poll.

The stats come from a YouGov poll, commissioned by Working Families, which asked working parents whether they agree with the following statement: “I have felt treated less fairly at work because of my childcare responsibilities” since the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK began. 20% of working parents answered “strongly agree” or “tend to agree”. Mothers were more likely to agree with the statement than fathers (22% vs 17%). Part-time workers were much more likely to agree with the statement than full-time workers (29% vs 15%).

The polling is part of National Work Life Week and coincides with the publication of a new report from Working Families, “Flexistability: Building Back Better for the UK’s Working Families”, which outlines a labour market and rights framework for quality flexible work, including a call for the Government to add caring responsibilities to the list of protected characteristics in the Equality Act so that parents have stronger legal rights. Other recommendations include a call for a statutory right to 10 days paid parental leave, for greater investment in childcare 52 weeks of the year and to bring forward legislation which would make it unlawful to make pregnant women and new parents redundant other than in very limited and specified circumstances, such as the closure of business. On parental leave, it wants to see 12 weeks reserved for the mother to be used in a block within the first year after birth, a similar 12 weeks reserved for dads or partners and the remainder being open to mothers transferring it to their partner in up to three blocks.

Other suggestions include legislating to force employers to advertise jobs as flexible; a day one right to a contract that reflects the hours people work; a right to at least one months’ advance notice of work schedules; a right to compensation where shifts are cancelled or changed without reasonable notice; parental employment rights for all irrespective of their employment status; and action to minimise the tax incentives for employers to offer zero-hours and bogus self-employed contracts and to impose significant penalties on those employers who use them inappropriately.

Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive of Working Families, said: “At the height of lockdown, the Prime Minister made clear that parents must be ‘defended and protected’ if they are unable to work because they cannot get the childcare they need. But there is currently no legal or regulatory mechanism to defend or protect working parents in the way the Prime Minister has suggested. In terms of childcare, we are certainly not back to ‘business as usual’—since schools reopened in September, parents have continued to struggle, managing staggered school times, gaps in wraparound care provision, and the ever-present risk of being required to self-isolate.

“With millions of parents facing unfair treatment at work just for having caring responsibilities – and waves of COVID-related redundancies around the corner – now is the time for the Government to act and make being a parent or carer a protected characteristic.”

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