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Pregnancy & maternity discrimination - understanding your rights

View profile for Maria Chadwick
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Any woman who has recently given birth or who is pregnant is protected from discrimination, at work and in her day to day life.

Discrimination occurs when a woman is treated less favourably than others because of her pregnancy or maternity. For example, discrimination could manifest itself where a woman is told to stop breastfeeding her child. Equally, if a woman is unfairly dismissed from her job, because of a medical condition or illness related to pregnancy, this could also be discrimination.

Employers, service providers, public bodies, educations organisations, service providers and associations can be held accountable for discriminatory acts.

However, to understand where discrimination occurs, it is important to understand both civil and workplace discrimination.

What is workplace discrimination?

Workplace discrimination occurs when a woman who is pregnant or has recently given birth is treated less favourably by her employer.

A case for discrimination can only be brought if the discrimination itself occurred within something called ‘the protected period’. This begins from the moment the woman becomes pregnant and continues until the maternity leave period ends or once she returns from maternity leave – whichever comes first.

However, if you are treated unfavourably once this protected period has passed, you may still be protected against discrimination and may be able to make a claim of sex discrimination, rather than on grounds of pregnancy and maternity.

Equally, legislation exists to protect the right to maternity leave and maternity pay. If any attempt is made to deny you your maternity leave, to control your legal right to take maternity leave within the prescribed time frames or to limit or deny you the maternity pay which you are entitled to by law or your contract, then you may have a case for discrimination.

What is civil discrimination?

Civil discrimination occurs outside the workplace and covers the way you are treated by organisations from retailers to public bodies. For example, if a shopkeeper were to refuse to sell a pregnant woman alcohol, regardless of how well-meaning their intentions, this may amount to discrimination.

Civil discrimination is also covered by a protected period, which starts when the woman first becomes pregnant and continues for up to 26 weeks after the birth of the child.

Like workplace discrimination, a claim may be made for sex discrimination if the discrimination takes place outside of the protected period.

Civil discrimination legislation also covers your rights in relation to breastfeeding. It is illegal in the UK for a breastfeeding mother to be asked to stop feeding her child. This is the case even outside of the 26 week period.

What are the next steps?

If you believe you have been subjected to discrimination in relation to pregnancy or maternity, then there are a number of things to bear in mind before bringing a claim.

Firstly, if the discrimination took place at work, then this is a matter for the Employment Tribunal. Your claim should be made within three months, less one day, of the discriminatory act itself. The Tribunal is very strict in applying these time limits, so acting promptly is very important.

If you have faced discrimination in your day-to-day life then the rules are slightly different.

If the discrimination was at the hands of a public body, a service provider or a private club, society or association, then your claim would be pursued in the County Court.

The deadline for this kind of claim is within six months, less one day, of the discriminatory act.

The courts have powers to stop discrimination from taking place and you may be entitled to compensation.

Getting the right advice

If you would like advice regarding pregnancy and maternity discrimination or are unsure if you might have a claim, our specialist discrimination law team are able to help: 0175 321 6399.

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