Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination at Work

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In England and Wales it’s against the law for your employer to discriminate against you at work because you are pregnant or on maternity leave. You can take legal action if you are discriminated against due to being pregnant or being on maternity leave.

It can be difficult sometimes to tell if your employer is treating you unfavourably because of the fact that you are pregnant or on maternity leave.

If you’re not sure, contact us and speak to one of our specialist Employment Law Solicitors who offer an initial discussion about your case so you know where you stand. We can advise you about the different funding options to make a claim. 

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More about Pregnancy / Maternity Discrimination at Work

The Equality Act 2010 says that you cannot be treated unfavourably because you are pregnant or on maternity leave. That’s because both are classed as a protected characteristic under The Equality Act. This means that the law protects you from being discriminated against at work because you are pregnant or your maternity leave.

To bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal for pregnancy or maternity discrimination, a women does not have to show that she has been treated differently to how a man would have been treated, just that the unfavourable treatment was because she was pregnant or linked to her maternity leave.

Pregnancy or maternity discrimination at work can happen during the recruitment process, while you are employed and even when you are facing termination of employment.

When you are pregnant or taking maternity leave this time is called the ‘protected period’. The protected period starts when you become pregnant and stops when your maternity leave ends or two weeks after the end of your pregnancy if you do not have the right to maternity leave, this may happen if you are not an employee.

You could still make a claim for pregnancy or maternity related discrimination after the protected period has ended, if the reason for the unfavourable treatment was due to your pregnancy or maternity leave, even if the unfavourable treatment happened after the protected period has ended. If you are unsure whether the protected period applies to you, reach out to our specialist team of Employment Solicitors to discuss this.

Examples of Pregnancy / Maternity Discrimination at Work

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work takes many forms but to help you understand when the actions of your employer may be discriminatory, we have put together some examples based on areas we frequently advise on:

      • Redundancy – It isn’t always discriminatory for a pregnant woman to be made redundant, however it is discriminatory for an employer to select you for redundancy because you are pregnant or on maternity leave.
      • Promotion – Whilst your employer does not have to rate you higher than a person who is not pregnant or on maternity leave in an interview process for a promotion, they do have to ensure that you are not excluded from promotion opportunities. Being overlooked for a promotion because you are pregnant or excluding you from the recruitment process as you will be taking or are on maternity leave is discrimination.
      • Absence policies – Where your employer uses a trigger point system to manage sickness absence in the workplace, they must ensure that pregnancy-related absence is recorded separately and will not count towards any trigger point calculation. This means that if your absence from work is because of morning sickness, that period of absence should not count for trigger point purposes.
      • Offensive comments – If a colleague makes fun of you for being pregnant, this may constitute harassment under The Equality Act 2010, if the comments made by your colleague make you feel that your dignity has been violated or that you have been subjected to an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment as a result of the comments they made.
      • Pay increase – If you are overlooked for a pay rise because you are on maternity leave and your employer does not increase your pay due to your maternity leave this could give rise to a discrimination claim.

What Can You Do?

Unfavourable treatment because you are pregnant or on maternity leave is against the law, please take steps to challenge the way you have been treated and do not accept it.

You should start by looking at your employer’s policies and procedures relating to equality at work, specifically pregnancy and maternity leave. If your employer has a policy which explains how to make a complaint about discrimination, you should follow the internal process. If your employer does not have an internal policy to help in your situation, you should raise the issues you are facing either with your line manager or with your HR department if you have one as a written grievance.

Finally, if your employer has still not dealt with the issues you are facing at work, you can submit a claim to an Employment Tribunal, but you’ll have to go through the ACAS Early Conciliation process first (see below).

Making an Employment Tribunal Claim

There are a few things that you should note if you decide to make a claim against your employer for pregnancy or maternity leave discrimination.

Just Three Months to Make a Claim

You only have three months (less one day) from the date of the last act of discrimination to make a claim. Where the discrimination is a series of continuing acts, the time limit runs from the last discriminatory act. This could include up to three months after your employment has ended. Time moves fast, so don’t delay in reaching out to us for expert legal advice from one of our specialist Employment Law Solicitors.

ACAS Early Conciliation

You will have to go through the ACAS Early Conciliation process before you can make your claim to an Employment Tribunal. You must contact ACAS to complete the early conciliation process within the initial 3 month time limit. This process is designed to help you try to reach a settlement and resolve your claim before going to an Employment Tribunal. Once the early conciliation process has concluded and if you were unable to resolve the matter during this process, you can then make your claim to an Employment Tribunal.

The time limit to submit your discrimination claim is paused whilst the Early Conciliation process takes place.

If you are not sure if you have a claim for pregnancy or maternity leave discrimination, contact our specialist Employment Solicitors to discuss your situation. As part of our initial call we will discuss our funding options and you can decide which suits you best.

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