Tackling Pregnancy And Maternity Discrimination At Work


The Law Of… pregnancy and maternity discrimination

Statistics on the treatment of pregnant and new mothers at work paint a disturbing picture:

  • Around 1 in 9 mothers have reported that they were dismissed, made compulsorily redundant, or treated so badly that they had no choice but to leave their jobs
  • 1 in 5 mothers have experienced harassment or negative comments in relation to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and/or their colleagues

Recognising that more needs to be done to support working mothers, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee presented the Government with 21 recommendations on tackling pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

Deana Bates, Solicitor in Employment Law, looks at some of the Government's responses to these recommendations and what it plans to do to end to discrimination at work.

Providing Greater Protection For Pregnant And New Mums

  • Can individual risk assessments be put in place for workers who are pregnant, have given birth in the past 6 months, or are breastfeeding?

    Employers are required by law to assess the health and safety risks of their workers' roles. But, the report has found that problems arise when there aren't clear lines of communication between and employer and their staff.

    For pregnant women and new mothers to feel confident in approaching employers with concerns over health and safety, the Government has recommended having honest and open communication.

    If you have questions about what health and safety rights you have at work, the HSE has put together a useful guide for new and expecting mothers.

  • Will the government review the pregnancy and maternity-related rights available to workers, and allow them to have paid time off from work for antenatal appointments?

    With limited protection currently available for workers, such as temporary and agency staff and those on zero-hours contracts, the Government has acknowledged that more needs to be done.

    A review of employment practices in the modern working world is set to take place, which will involve looking at how effective current workplace rights are and how they can be improved.

  • Can greater protection from redundancy be given to new and expecting mothers?

    Although women on maternity leave have an entitlement to return to the same job, research in the report has shown that 6% of all mothers were made redundant and 2% of mothers were made redundant once they returned from maternity leave.

    Accepting that this behaviour is unacceptable, the Government suggests that it's planning on bringing forward proposals that ensure pregnant women or those returning from maternity leave are protected.

  • Will Brexit affect rights for new mothers and pregnant women?

    In spite of the speculation around whether the UK will retain the employment rights that were introduced as part of EU law, the Government has confirmed that rights for pregnant women and new mothers will still stand post Brexit.

Improving Access To Information And Encouraging A Change In Attitudes

  • Can women be informed about their maternity rights earlier on in their pregnancy?

    Agreeing that pregnant women should have comprehensive information about their rights earlier on, the Government revealed that the NHS is working on a digital maternity tool for pregnant women and new mothers.

    The goal of this tool is to create a digital hub of information that's easily accessible and relevant to mothers, including information about their employment rights.

  • Can a higher standard of training be offered to line managers?

    The Government is currently working with Acas and the Equality Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to raise awareness of maternity and pregnancy-related issues in the workplace.

    In 2016, Acas launched a free e-learning training package aimed at helping line managers and their staff to understand the rights available to them and their responsibilities.

  • How can the Government encourage employers to take on part-time staff and offer flexible working?

    When it reviews the right to ask for flexible working in 2019, the Government has suggested that it will consider whether more action to encourage employers to take on part-time workers and offer flexible working is needed.

Improving Access To Justice

  • Can the time limit for new and expecting mothers bringing maternity and pregnancy discrimination claims against employers be extended?

    Research that was commissioned by the Government and EHRC didn't highlight any issues with the current 3-month time limit for bringing a claim to an employment tribunal.

    Tribunals have the authority to extend time limits on a case-by-case basis where there are justifiable reasons for doing this, but the Government said that it will keep this under review.

  • Will the Government work with the main organisations providing free, reliable advice to women about pregnancy and maternity discrimination and monitor the uptake and the need for this advice?

    The Government has pledged to work with the organisations that provide mothers with advice and guidance. It will also use this opportunity to identify what types of questions mothers are asking, and evaluate whether mothers are being given the right advice.

Enforcement And Monitoring

  • How will the Government keep track of the level of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the UK and how it will measure how effective its actions have been?

    By continuing its research into pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination, the Government has said that it will be able to:

    • Identify the types of discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers in the UK and how frequently it occurs
    • Understand the level of awareness employers and mothers have about maternity rights and employer responsibilities in relation to pregnancy, maternity leave, and a mother's return to work
    • Gain an insight into the advice available for working mothers and whether it's effective enough, as well as looking at their experiences when raising concerns and enforcing their legal rights
    • Analyse employers' attitudes towards women who are pregnant, on maternity leave, or coming back to work
    • Look at what type of support is available for employers and whether it can be improved

Deana comments on the report:

"The report highlights the importance of employers taking positive action to support expectant and new mums in the workplace."

"What is very clear from the report is that although paper exercises such as risk assessments are important, these must be meaningful in order to offer the protection required for mums in the workplace."

"Not only should employers assess the potential risks for pregnant and new mums, they should also be taking positive actions to reduce/eliminate such risks. For example, an extension of the assessments ought to be a plan of action to implement any adjustments needed to support employees."

"The requirement of increased protection for mothers regarding redundancy has also been recognised in the report. Although it is not currently unlawful to terminate an employee’s employment whilst they are on maternity leave or are pregnant, it is unlawful to make them redundant due to their pregnancy or maternity leave."

"Another common mistake made by employers is to ignore employees on maternity leave when considering candidates for suitable alternative vacancies, simply because they are out of sight whilst on maternity leave."

"If you have been treated unfairly at work due to your pregnancy or you are not sure what employment rights you have, I can walk you through your options and rights."

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