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Why Pregnancy & Maternity Discrimination is Still Rife in 2019

Employment law solicitors based in Brighton explain why pregnancy and maternity discrimination is still rife in 2019

Our Employment Team have been running a yearly campaign since 2004 to stamp out pregnancy and maternity discrimination called Mind the Bump.

The Equality Act sets out the legal obligations that employers must abide by when dealing with staff who are pregnant or on maternity leave which covers all areas of employment. This includes recruitment, promotion, training and redundancy selection.  In addition, protection is provided by the Employment Rights Act (ERA) and the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations.

It is surprising that given this large amount of legal protection pregnancy and maternity discrimination is still rife.

This may be due to employers’ common misconception that their staff have to have 2 years’ service before having the right to bring a claim against them in the Employment Tribunal. In fact, there is no service requirement at all and the right to bring a discrimination claim can even arise prior to employment at the interview stage. For example, where a woman is not offered the job despite having the required qualifications and experience because she has informed the prospective employer that she is pregnant.

Another common discrimination scenario is where a woman is told that her job is no longer needed when she is due to return from maternity leave. If there is a reduction in the number of people undertaking a role, employers fail to appreciate that in these circumstances the woman on maternity leave has priority for one of the remaining roles. In most cases, we find that women on maternity leave have not been informed or consulted about a redundancy situation. Also, we find that the maternity leaver’s replacement has been offered a permanent role in preference to her returning to her job.

We also come across many cases where a woman on maternity leave is not offered promotion opportunities despite being the best qualified.

The reason we have such protective laws around pregnancy and maternity leave is because this is a very vulnerable time for women. Unfortunately, many employers do not understand the law or comply with it.

We would urge employers to look at maternity leave as an opportunity rather than as a nuisance. Employers can claim back all of the Statutory Maternity Pay they have paid out to their employees. Recruiting temporary cover can be a good way of trying out new staff, upskilling their teams and an opportunity to grow their business by retaining these temporary workers when the woman on maternity leave returns.

Stamping out pregnancy and maternity discrimination also requires a large cultural shift. We believe that the high percentage of women experiencing pregnancy and maternity discrimination is due to cultural prejudice and discriminatory assumptions that these women are less committed than their male colleagues.

Recent statistics show that the uptake in men applying for Shared Parental Leave in order to share their partner’s maternity leave is very small. Not surprisingly, men are reluctant to face the same barriers to career progression that they see their women colleagues experiencing.

If you want to know more about workplace pregnancy and maternity rights so you are a best practice employer for all your employees, contact Martin Searle Solicitors on 01273609911, or email info@ms-solicitors.co.uk.

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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