In June 2005, the then Equal Opportunities Commission’s (EOC) report ‘Greater Expectations’ examining the extent of pregnancy discrimination in Britain was published. The EOC reported that almost half of the 440,000 pregnant women in Britain at that time experienced some form of disadvantage at work, simply for being pregnant or taking maternity leave.
Twelve years having passed since the publication of the EOC’s report and with a statutory regime that prohibits discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity and which includes pregnant employees’ rights to health and safety protection, time off for antenatal care, maternity leave and unfair dismissal protection, we should surely have expectations of great improvements in the world of work for women who are pregnant or have a young baby.
But recently published research carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHCR) in conjunction with YouGov Plc into managers’ attitudes around pregnancy and maternity discrimination reveals that 51% of employers agree that there is sometimes resentment amongst employees towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave.
59% of employers agreed that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant during the recruitment process, and 46% agreed that it is reasonable to ask women if they have young children during the recruitment process.
Financially, 41% of employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace puts an ‘unnecessary cost burden’ on the workplace. 36% of employers disagree that it is easy to protect expectant or new mothers from discrimination in the workplace.
The results of the survey were published in a BBC article on the day that the EHCR hosted a round table event focusing on women in the workplace. One woman recalled how she was made redundant during her maternity leave, and how having had no contact from her employer throughout her maternity leave, an internet search of her employer’s website led her to discover that she had been removed from the list of staff.
Separate research carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHCR) in conjunction with the former Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) into women’s experiences of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace suggests that this sort of behaviour is not uncommon, with 11% of mothers reporting that they had been dismissed, made redundant or felt treated so poorly that they felt forced to leave their job.
So how can employers help to protect expectant or new mothers from discrimination in the workplace (and protect themselves against employment tribunal claims)?
- Have an equal opportunities policy and make sure that everyone is aware of it. This can also help an employer defend itself from legal responsibility for discrimination or harassment by its employees if it can show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination or harassment occurring.
- Give managers appropriate training, so that they understand the key rights of pregnant employees and new mothers.
- Keep in touch with women on maternity leave so that they continue to feel included and work with them during the time they have off to understand what will work for women and the organisation when they return to work. Women on maternity leave can use up to 10 “Keeping in Touch (“KIT”) days without bringing their maternity leave to an end.
- Ensure that women returners have access to promotion and development opportunities. Around a third of employers believe that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are generally less interested in career progression when compared to other employees in their company.
- Be flexible about flexible working requests. Be considerate about scheduling meetings so that people with childcare responsibilities can attend.
This blog post was co-authored by Trainee Solicitor Emily Driver and Solicitor Helen Webster.
 YouGov Plc (2017) Maternity, Equality and Human Rights Commission.
 Adams, L., Winterbotham,M. et. al (2016) Pregnancy and Maternity-related Discrimination and Disadvantage: Experiences of Employers, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Equalities and Human Rights Commission.