The Sex Discrimination Act specifically prohibited discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity leave. Since October 2010, this type of pregnancy and maternity discrimination has been unlawful under the Equality Act.
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is deemed to be automatically unfair. There is no need to provide a male comparator. A male comparator (actual or hypothetical) is used in other sex discrimination cases to test whether a man would have been treated more favourably in similar circumstances.
This protection exists during what is called the ‘protected period’ from conception until the end of statutory maternity leave.
Women are protected by the Equality Act where they are:
The Equality Act protects you from discrimination from when you become pregnant until your maternity leave ends and you return to work. If you do not have the right to Statutory Maternity Leave, it protects you until two weeks after the child is born. This period of time is called the ‘protected period’.
The Equality Act states that you must not be discriminated against during the protected because of your pregnancy, any illness suffered by you as a result of your pregnancy, or because you are on maternity leave.
The Equality Act’s provisions for pregnancy and maternity cover all areas of employment, including, but not limited, to:
Some examples of pregnancy discrimination at work include an employee being selected for redundancy because they are pregnant, the refusal to offer a promotion or job opportunity to an employee because of their pregnancy, not permitting an employee time off to attend antenatal appointments, or dismissing someone when they have announced their pregnancy.
Sadly, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace remains a serious issue – a 2016 survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported that 77% of mothers said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on return from maternity leave.
The Employment Rights Act and the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations also gives employees (not workers) additional protection. This legislation makes dismissal automatically unfair if it is due to your pregnancy or maternity leave. Subjecting a woman to any other detriment due to her pregnancy or maternity leave is unlawful.
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination arises where a woman is treated unfavourably because of her:
Women are also protected from unfair dismissal and detriment for reasons connected to:
Pregnant women and new mothers have specific workplace rights. It is important that you and your employer understand these rights. If your employer fails to observe these rights they may face an Employment Tribunal claim for unlawful sex discrimination and/or unfair dismissal.
Your employer must make suitable and sufficient health and safety assessments of the risks pregnant employees face at work.
All pregnant employees – regardless of hours worked or length or service – have a statutory right to paid time off for ante-natal care.
You are entitled to one year’s statutory maternity leave regardless of length of service, if you are an employee.
You are entitled to work for your employer during maternity leave for up to 10 days without bringing that leave to an end.
Statutory maternity pay is now 39 weeks for those who qualify. Contracts of employment may provide for more generous terms and/or payments.
You must take a minimum two weeks’ maternity leave from the day of birth.
As a woman, you may bring a discrimination and/or detriment claim if, as a result of maternity leave, you are denied benefit of the terms and conditions to which you are entitled (including pay rises, promotion and bonuses).
Statutory paid annual leave (5.6 weeks) continues to accrue during ordinary maternity leave and additional maternity leave.
Your employer must make suitable and sufficient assessment of the health and safety risks for new and breastfeeding mothers.
Your employer must provide adequate rest and meal breaks and suitable rest facilities (note – not toilets) for breastfeeding mothers.
You have the right to request flexible working. Your employer must give proper consideration to the request using the required statutory procedures.
Regardless of your length of service, if you are dismissed when you are pregnant or on maternity leave you are entitled to receive written reasons for your dismissal without having to request them.
It is automatically unfair for your employer to dismiss a female employee or select her for redundancy due to pregnancy or maternity. There is no minimum qualifying service period.
The preferential treatment of women on maternity leave over other employees during a redundancy programme is a rare example of lawful positive discrimination.
While on maternity leave, you have special protection from redundancy. Where a redundancy situation means it is not practical to continue to employ a woman on maternity leave under her existing contract of employment, she must be offered any suitable alternative vacancy and may be given priority over and above any other employee who is also at risk of redundancy but not on maternity leave. This can be with an associated company. The terms and conditions must not be substantially less favourable than those of the previous contract.
Our expert discrimination in the workplace solicitors can help with all aspects of employment law, pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
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