Campaigning organisation Maternity Action estimate that 60000 women lose their jobs because of pregnancy or maternity discrimination every year. This is despite the Equality Act 2010, which protects you from unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy, pregnancy related illness or maternity leave.
In my experience, the most common problems arise from pregnancy related absences and around returning to work. I’ve advised women whose employers object to the number or timing of her ante natal appointments. There is a right to paid leave: you should not be asked to make up the time or to rearrange appointments outside office hours. Employers should not apply absence policies to women with pregnancy related illnesses except to the extent that this is to assist her (such as a referral to Occupational Health to consider whether any adjustments might enable her to return to work). Nevertheless, I have advised many women disciplined or even dismissed because they have taken time off with pregnancy related illness.
Having said that, outright pregnancy discrimination is still common: women tell me that their employers’ attitudes towards them have changed once they announce their pregnancy, with an assumption that she is no longer committed to her work, won’t return after her maternity leave or will only want to work part time. Employers raise performance concerns out of the blue or suddenly announce the role is redundant. One was even told that she would be replaced if she took her full entitlement to maternity leave. When one client complained about something her manager had said to her, he denied it, saying that her memory was bound to be affected by her pregnancy.
Returning to work is one of the most common times when women experience problems. Some women find their position has been filled and their services are no longer needed; their employer claims they are redundant. Your maternity leave must not play a part in any decision that your role is redundant. Any selection process should not take account of absences for maternity, ante natal appointments or pregnancy related illness. If you have been replaced during your maternity leave, your role is not redundant and it is unlawful to dismiss you. If your role is genuinely redundant, you have priority for any suitable alternative vacancies.
I would advise any woman experiencing discrimination to get something in writing as soon as possible: send an email setting out the problem, whether that be asserting your right to time off for an appointment or complaining about a comment about your pregnancy. If your employer has a HR department, get in touch with them as well as speaking to your line manager, or manager’s manager if they are the problem. If that doesn’t work, raise a formal grievance.
If things aren’t resolved internally, get legal advice as soon as possible. It’s important to remember there are short 3 month time limits to bring Employment Tribunal claims for discrimination. Whilst you may well have a lot on your plate preparing for a new baby, you might lose your right to claim if you wait.
Author: Louise Taft (Prolegal). Prolegal provides prestigious expertise without the elevated costs expected in this area. We employ the people, the resources and the technology needed to deliver you the highest quality of service in employment law.