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A rise in pregnant women being dismissed from employment?

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Three in four mothers say they have had a negative or discriminatory experience

Surely not in 2016. With legislation and rules protecting employees pregnancy discrimination should be a thing of the past.

The recent Government run Equality and Human Rights Commission Report (published by IFF Research Ltd) of Summer of 2015 found that:

  • Overall, three in four mothers (77%) said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on return from maternity leave. If scaled up to the general population this could mean as many as 390,000 mothers a year.
  • Around one in nine mothers (11%) reported they felt forced to leave their job. This included those being dismissed (1%); made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not (1%); or feeling treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job (9%). If scaled up to the general population this could mean as many as 54,000 mothers a year.
  • One in five mothers (20%) said they experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer/colleagues. This could mean as many as 100,000 mothers a year.
  • One in ten (10%) mothers were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments. This could mean as many as 53,000 mothers a year.

What is pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the eyes of the law?

If a person (employer/colleague) discriminates against a woman in the 'protected period' of a woman’s pregnancy by treating them unfavourably because of:

  • The pregnancy
  • The illness suffered by the woman as a result of the pregnancy
  • Maternity leave
  • Their attempts to seek to exercise or having exercised their right to additional maternity leave

What is the 'protected period'?

The protected period, in relation to a woman's pregnancy, begins when the pregnancy begins, and ends - 

  1. If she has the right to ordinary and additional maternity leave, at the end of the additional maternity leave period or (if earlier) when she returns to work after the pregnancy;
  2. If she does not have that right, at the end of the period of 2 weeks beginning with the end of the pregnancy.

The 'is it just me?' effect

In short the answer is no. When people fall victim to a change in their employer’s attitude towards them they often believe that:

  1. They are the only one who has suffered the act.
  2. It may have been reasonable to expect this type of discrimination.

Recent statistics published by the Citizens Advice Bureau show a 25% increase in people seeking workplace advice on pregnancy and maternity issues in the past year. The Bureau also reported more than 22,000 visits to it’s website surrounding the issue of pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

It is not 'ok' to expect or condone any form of discriminatory behaviour.

The common question: Is it worth kicking up a 'fuss'

The stigma of being "that employee" who raised a grievance to their employer or reporting pregnancy and maternity discrimination is a barrier that prevents many individuals from seeking advice or making a claim for discrimination. However if reported an individual can:

  • Raise awareness that the negative attitude employers have surrounding pregnancy and maternity is not ok.
  • Become reinstated in their original job role.
  • Obtain an apology from their employer.
  • Obtain compensation for financial losses and/or injury to feelings or health suffered by acts of discrimination.

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits pregnancy and maternity discrimination. If an individual does not report discrimination then this could result in such behaviour continuing, despite the position under the law

What to do if it happens to you?

If you or anyone feel that you have suffered discrimination as a result of your pregnancy or maternity Stephensons are discrimination specialists.

So please get in touch with our team on 0175 321 6399 for advice.

Nida Aslam, employment and discrimination advisor

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