Pregnancy discrimination rife in workplaces

Pregnancy discrimination rife in workplaces

Discrimination against pregnant workers is still a sad reality, as demonstrated in research published today by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The research reveals the appalling extent of discrimination against women employees who are pregnant and take maternity leave. The researchers, commissioned by EHRC and BIS, interviewed more than 3,000 employers and more than 3,000 working mothers.

The main findings were:

  • 11% of the workers reported they were either dismissed, made redundant, or treated so poorly that they resigned. 
  • One in five women said they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to their pregnancy or flexible working.
  • 10% of mothers said that their employer has discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments.

The research states that if the sample was scaled up to the whole working population, it would represent 54,000 women each year forced out of work because of pregnancy-related discrimination.

Marion Scovell, head of Prospect legal, said: “This report makes shocking reading, but is sadly not unexpected. Our legal team has advised a number of members faced with pregnancy discrimination in the last year and we have presented several tribunal claims to assert members’ rights under the Equality Act.”

For workers without the support of a union, pursuing a case to a tribunal is an extremely complex and costly experience. The introduction of Employment Tribunal fees in July 2013 means it costs £1,200 to bring a claim for sex or maternity discrimination.

This has led to a fall off of around 70% in the number of cases being presented to tribunals.

Marion added: “Today’s report confirms how important it is that workers have access to justice through the tribunal to fight inequality at work.

“Prospect pays the tribunal fees for members where we are supporting a case, so they have the security that when things go wrong the union will be there to support them with expert advice and to ensure access to justice.”

Prospect member Lisa Ward, who works for the Prison Service, took her case to tribunal last year. Prospect represented her throughout.

Lisa won her year-long legal battle for the right to reduce her hours after returning from maternity leave. On the morning of the hearing’s first day, the Prison Service, at last, agreed Lisa could work the hours she wanted to and the case was settled.

Marion said: “Lisa’s case is just one example of the unfair treatment highlighted in today’s report and the real hurdles facing working mothers. We managed to resolve her difficulties through using the law and this highlights once again the benefits of union membership.”