Pregnancy discrimination at work is where a woman is treated unfavourably on the grounds of her pregnancy or pregnancy-related illness during the protected period from conception to the end of statutory maternity leave. Treating an employee unfavourably as a result of her maternity leave, or request for maternity leave, is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 which prohibits pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
The protected period in relation to a woman’s maternity leave starts when the pregnancy begins. For women with the right to ordinary and additional maternity leave, it ends on completion of their maternity leave, or when she returns to work, if that is earlier. If she does not have that right the protected period finishes at the end of the second week after the pregnancy ends.
If you believe you or your business may have discriminated against an employee due to their pregnancy, maternity leave or request for maternity leave, you should consult a specialist pregnancy and maternity discrimination lawyer.
Unlike other forms of discrimination in the workplace, there is only one specific form of discrimination in pregnancy at work. This is direct discrimination which is defined as someone discriminating against a woman, in the protected period, in relation to her pregnancy, or treating her unfavourably because of her pregnancy or any illness she suffers because of it.
There are no specific definitions of indirect victimisation and harassment on the grounds of pregnancy. Please refer to our sex discrimination in the workplace page for further guidance.
There are different forms of maternity discrimination, which occurs where a woman is treated unfavourably because:
In addition, pregnant women and women who are employed and have given birth have a number of rights on maternity leave including the right to one year’s statutory maternity leave (regardless of length of service), maternity pay and the right to the same terms and conditions including pay rises, promotion and bonuses.
It is also automatically unfair to dismiss or select for redundancy a woman where the principal reason is connected to her maternity leave (this includes non-renewal of a fixed-term contract).
As best practice employment lawyers, we help employers implement practices and procedures to prevent all forms of discrimination. Pregnancy workplace rights are complex. We can provide training on your legal obligations when dealing with pregnant women. Failure to observe these obligations could result in an Employment Tribunal claim for unlawful discrimination and/or unfair dismissal.
We promote best practice with regards to the treatment of pregnant women and women on maternity leave. We can help you devise policies and procedures to ensure women’s maternity rights at work are protected, including issues such as breastfeeding, health and safety and flexible working. We can also advise on all issues to do with maternity rights, including redundancy situations.
If you are implementing a redundancy programme we can ensure you comply with pregnancy discrimination law as it is automatically unfair to dismiss or select a woman for redundancy where the principal reason is connected to her pregnancy. There are also special rules in relation to offering suitable alternative employment.