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Stamping Out Pregnancy & Maternity Discrimination In The Workplace: Be Bold For Change

Martin Searle Solicitors Employment Law Advice For Employees On Pregnancy Maternity Discrimination

The campaign theme for International Women’s Day which is taking place on 8 March 2017 is #BeBoldForChange.

We have campaigned to stamp out pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace since we founded our firm in 2004. In 2005, the Equal Opportunities Commission carried out research which showed that more than 30,000 women had been sacked, made redundant or received unfair treatment at work due to pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Depressingly, further research undertaken by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2015 showed that the number of women discriminated against had nearly doubled.

It is assumed that women’s rights are progressive and improve over time. The reality is that these rights are influenced by economic and cultural factors. The triumph of individualism over collectivism when Thatcher came to power, together with a drop in Union membership and the idea that labour should be there to meet the needs of capitalism rather than being balanced with the needs of families and our community, has had an adverse effect on equal rights.

It is recognised that pregnancy and maternity discrimination is prevalent in many organisations. Women who take time off to have children are seen as lacking commitment to their work. This strikes at the heart of women’s economic independence and effects women of all classes as well as their families.

This led to the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) making specific recommendations about how this type of discrimination could be tackled.

The WEC’s report criticised the Government for introducing tribunal fees and called for a substantial cut to be made to the £1,200 fee for women bringing pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims. The introduction of Employment Tribunal fees resulted in a 65% drop in all Employment Tribunal claims but when scrutinising decreasing claims made by women for sex discrimination, the impact was a lot greater, with a massive 80% drop.

The WEC’s report also recommended that the Government increase the time limit for women bringing pregnancy and maternity related discrimination cases from three months to six months.

Despite the Government stating that they would take a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to discrimination, the Government dismissed the WEC’s calls for an extension to the three-month time limit and was silent on their recommendation for lower issuing fees for discrimination claims. Maria Miller, Chair of the WEC expressed disappointment at the Government’s lack of ‘energy and resolve’ in tackling this issue.

We believe this is a lost opportunity and will result in this type of discrimination continuing to increase as these figures on pregnancy and maternity discrimination are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

This is why we are launching Mind the Bump 2017 in solidarity with organisations all over the world who are campaigning to improve women’s rights around International Women’s Day 2017.

Throughout March our employment law team will provide free telephone advice on pregnancy and maternity rights and responsibilities, Shared Parental Leave, maternity leave and return to work issues, for both employers and employees.

As part of our Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy, on 29 March 2017, we will be providing training through Community Works for Brighton and Hove charities and not-for-profit organisations on ‘Managing Family Friendly and Flexible Working Rights’.

We believe it is important to educate and support employers to meet their equality obligations at the same time as advising employees of their rights in the workplace. Men now have the right to share care when their baby is born and yet the uptake for men taking Shared Parental Leave has been very low. This is not surprising as why would men who want to build their career risk being unfairly treated in the way they have seen their female colleagues treated? While this legislation is very important, it has been introduced at a time when work and market forces take precedents over the rights to a balanced family life.

Zero contracts, the removal of the right to bring unfair dismissal claims due to the increasing of service requirements to two years, tribunal fees have all contributed to the building of a UK working culture based on insecurity, competition, long hours and low pay.

Mind the Bump 2017 is our contribution to promoting equality in the workplace to ensure fairness and support for families which underpins good employment relations and ultimately benefits both employers and employees.

To find out more about our free advice surgeries, training and factsheets see here.

About the author

Fiona Martin

fiona-martin

I lead the employment teams in our solicitors’ offices in Brighton, Eastbourne, Shoreham, Gatwick & Crawley and Croydon. As founding Director, I am also responsible for the firm’s marketing. I provide expert opinion for the press, disseminate employment law round-ups through my employment law blog and campaign on important issues such as maternity and disability discrimination. I train employers and HR professionals to be best practice managers and I am also a CEDR accredited mediator.

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