Rising Numbers Of Women Are Facing Maternity Leave Discrimination


The Law Of... protecting pregnant women's rights

Research published by Citizens Advice shows the charity has seen a 58% increase in the number of women raising issues with them relating to maternity leave discrimination over the past 2 years.

The Law Of... protecting pregnant women's rights

Whilst pregnant women and new or existing mothers are protected by a range of rights in the workplace, there's been a deeply concerning rise in the unlawful treatment of mothers by their employers.

Mistreating Working Mothers

Pregnancy and/or maternity are both protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, making it unlawful for employers to discriminate against new or expecting mothers.

But, over the past 2 years, 3,307 women have approached Citizens Advice for advice or guidance on issues such as:

  • Being made redundant after they've told their employer that they're pregnant or have returned from maternity leave
  • Having their working hours reduced against their will
  • Inadequate or inaccurate health and safety assessments being carried out, or not conducted at all
  • Having their role changed once they return to work, or being given zero-hours contracts

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, pointed out that one of the major issues highlighted by the survey is that the responsibility for enforcing maternity rights is "poorly resourced and spread across a wide range of agencies."

The charity is encouraging the government to create a single body that will ensure all workplace rights are correctly implemented.

Unjust Redundancies

One of the most common issues that Citizens Advice reported dealing with concerned mothers being given shorter working hours, eventually leading to them being made redundant. The report also cites real-life examples of women who have been discriminated against in relation to their pregnancy or maternity.

Farzana, for example, was working as a lab technician – along with another colleague. She received a letter from her employer telling her that there was a possibility of her job being made redundant. Around the same time, she informed her employer that she was pregnant, who then promptly told her that she was being made redundant and handed her 1 month's notice. To make matters even worse, her offer to reduce her working hours was rejected by her employer who dismissed her – and not her colleague – without telling her why.

"It's unlawful for an employer to make an employee redundant on the basis that she is pregnant or going on maternity leave", Deana comments.

"Farzana's offer to change her working hours demonstrated that she was willing to work with her employer to come to a fair resolution – this is more than can be said for her employer."

Overcoming Discrimination

Citizens Advice outline 3 ways in which maternity-related issues can be tackled in their report:

  1. The introduction of a Fair Work Authority, which would be responsible for enforcing all workplace rights and dealing with employers that didn't adhere to the law
  2. Improving access to employment tribunals – the report highlighted that 4 out of 5 people who have problems at work are deterred from taking action due to the cost of employment tribunal fees, which are currently £390 – £1,200
  3. Raising awareness of maternity rights amongst employers and their staff, which might help to reduce the number of issues arising and the occurrence of sharp practice

Knowing Your Maternity Rights And Beating Sharp Practice

Sharp practice occurs whenever employees aren't treated fairly at work, for example, when legal protection that staff are entitled to is overlooked, or when an employee doesn't understand what rights they have.

With an increase in sharp practice occurring in the workplace, it's wise for pregnant women and working mothers to brush up on their rights, which include:

Deana comments:

"Attitudes towards pregnant women and working mothers have to change. In order for the workplace to become a less hostile and more inclusive environment, the government and employers need to play a stronger role in enforcing workplace rights, and any employer who ignores or discriminates against mothers must face the consequences of their actions."

"The very purpose of employment tribunals is to uphold the rights of employees, and the fact that 4 out of 5 individuals feel discouraged from taking action because of expensive tribunal fees contradicts its role in establishing a fair workplace."

"It's important for all employers to make sure that they treat working mothers fairly. Having the right procedures in place that are executed in a fair way is beneficial – and a lot less stressful – for both employers and their staff. Employers often approach us for advice about family-friendly rights as well as how they can handle more complex processes – such as redundancies – in the workplace."

"We're also experienced in dealing with cases of discrimination and unfair dismissal, and have successfully helped mothers reclaim rightful position in the workplace."

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