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Why We Need To Know More About Pregnancy Discrimination

Fiona Martin

Fiona Martin

For the last month my team of employment law specialists has been training employers and advising employees for free on pregnancy rights at work. It’s been an interesting month.

While, on the one hand, we’ve not come across anything totally new in these cases, we have been stunned by the extent to which pregnancy discrimination continues to blight the lives of so many women. And how flagrantly employers ignore the law.

Organisations such as Maternity Action have fought long and hard to tackle discrimination towards pregnant women at work. But they have been thwarted by the lack of genuine insight into the scale of the problem. While pregnancy and maternity discrimination is thought to be growing, there has been no research since the Equal Opportunity Commission’s campaign, Pregnant and Productive in 2005. That investigation found that 30,000 women lost their jobs each year as a result of pregnancy discrimination. That is an awful lot of employers wasting a huge amount of talent – to say nothing of the risk of payouts in an Employment Tribunal which are not limited by the usual cap of £68,400 for unfair dismissal.

All the indications are that the problem has worsened with the recession – and that’s certainly what we’ve seen. But the lack of hard data means this problem remains invisible, despite the harsh impact on the lives of women and their families.

Equality in the workplace for men and women underpins good employment relations and ensures fairness. Employment laws are there to prevent negative behaviour towards pregnant women and provide a level playing field. Unfortunately, too many employers are paying the price for ignoring them. It is difficult to see what will bring about any change but a proper understanding of the size of the problem and its consequences would be a good start.

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