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leah waller

Women Losing Employment Due To Pregnancy

September 13th, 2016

Number of women losing employment due to pregnancy and maternity discrimination rises from 30,000 to 54,000 in a decade. Our Head of Employment, Leah Waller, explains…

Recent figures show that the number of expectant and new mothers forced to leave their jobs due to pregnancy and maternity discrimination has risen from 30,000 in 2005 to a staggering 54,000 in 2015 and 77% of the women surveyed stated that they had been subjected to a negative or potentially discriminatory experience as a result of their pregnancy or maternity.

All employed expectant mothers are entitled to:-

  • legal protection from being dismissed or discriminated against on the grounds of pregnancy once the employer knows that they are pregnant;
  • special health and safety rights during pregnancy and also whilst breastfeeding;
  • the right to paid time off for antenatal care apply once the employer knows that they are pregnant;
  • the right that any pregnancy-related illnesses will not count towards their absence record.

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee has published a report on Pregnancy and maternity discrimination which highlights some staggering findings, in relation to those mothers surveyed, including:-

  • half of mothers noticed a negative impact on their career;
  • around 20% had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and/or their colleagues;
  • 10% said that their employer had discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments;
  • 41% of those surveyed felt there was a risk to, or impact on, their health or welfare at work;
  • one in 25 women left their job because pregnancy and maternity-related health and safety risks were not tackled;

Recommendations have been made to the Government in terms of the changes that need to be made to tackle the discrimination suffered by new and expectant mothers including raising awareness about employees’ rights and their employers’ obligations, increasing access to information and encouraging a change in behaviour but as yet, although the Government have not rejected the proposals, the Government has not set out any targets, timelines or plans in relation to what action will be taken.

In relation to Health and Safety concerns at work, for new and expectant mothers, the HSE has taken on board the findings and stated, in their response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission on Pregnancy and Maternity-related Discrimination and Disadvantage in the Workplace, that

“it is clear that women’s experiences and the approach taken by employers varied. HSE want to make sure that good practice is shared across all sectors; so HSE will take forward these recommendations, review current guidance and work through existing partnership channels, particularly in sectors highlighted in the research report.”

Of the 77% of women that had experienced a negative or potentially discriminatory experience as a result of their pregnancy or maternity only 28% of those discussed the issue with their employer and only 3% went on to raise a complaint through their employer’s internal grievance procedure.

This leads to the question as to why so many women are put off of raising the issue of pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination with their employer and of those surveyed; reasons for not pursuing the matter included worrying about the fallout and relationships with their colleagues or employer, fear for impact on their own stress, a feeling that nothing would change, a lack of information about their rights and the financial cost of pursuing the matter.

Since the introduction of Tribunal fees in 2013 the number of claims issued in Employment Tribunals has substantially reduced, this can be seen in the reduction from 1,589 claims of pregnancy-related cases in 2012-2013 to just 790 in 2014-2015. To bring a discrimination claim the initial Tribunal fee is £250.00 followed by a further £950.00 hearing fee, totalling £1,200.00 (without taking into account any legal fees or any expenses) and so it is questioned whether a Tribunal fee reduction for those women experiencing pregnancy and maternity discrimination will mean that more women are encouraged to issue their claims in the Tribunal.

Another factor highlighted by The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee is the short time limit, of three months less one day from the date of the discriminatory act, in which women have to bring an employment Tribunal claim and whether this should be extended to six months from the date in which the mother returns to work.

One thing is certain; the number of mothers that feel as though they have been subjected to a negative or potentially discriminatory experience as a result of their pregnancy or maternity is on the increase and the onus is placed heavily on the Government to respond to the recommendation but as employees and employers steps can be taken to improve relations with new and expectant mothers and encourage their transition to becoming a working mother.

If you are pregnant and experiencing difficulties with your employer and would like to be in the know about your rights in the workplace, get in touch with our employment department on 01494 773377 or email us at hello@lennonssolicitors.co.uk 

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