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What is pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and what can I do about it?

There is a lot of publicity about pregnancy and maternity discrimination, because sadly it is still too common. Research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests 54,000 women lose their jobs every year when pregnant or new to motherhood.

So how does the law protect women, and what can you do if you are a victim of discrimination?

The Equality Act contains a special provision to outlaw unfavourable treatment because of:

  • Pregnancy
  • Illness suffered as a result of pregnancy
  • Taking, or asking for, maternity leave

A pregnant woman or new mum doesn’t need to compare herself with another worker to show she has been treated badly: it isn’t a defence for an employer to say they would have acted the same way if another employee had taken time off work for another reason.

The Employment Rights Act also gives other rights to pregnant women and new mums:

  • The right to paid time off for pregnant women to attend ante- natal appointments
  • The right to be offered alternative work or be paid during a period she is unable to work for health and safety reasons because she is pregnant, has recently given birth or is breastfeeding
  • The right to maternity leave - six months “Ordinary Maternity Leave” and six months “Additional Maternity Leave” – and to Shared Parental Leave. Other Regulations give the right to return to work following that leave.
  • The right to request flexible working
  • The right not to be dismissed for a reason relating to pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave.

Regulations also give extra rights to mums whose job becomes redundant during maternity leave – they should be offered any suitable alternative vacancies (without the need to apply or attend an interview).

If you think you have been unfavourably treated because of pregnancy, pregnancy related illness or maternity leave, or if your employer isn’t complying with their obligations to you as a pregnant woman or new mum, your first step could be to raise it informally with them. Many employers are ignorant of the law and it might be a genuine mistake on their part. If that doesn’t work, consider raising a formal grievance setting out your concerns.

Ask your employer for a copy of the Grievance Procedure which should explain how you can do this, and offer a right of appeal if you are not satisfied with the outcome.

Sadly, many women find that they are unable to resolve their problems directly with their employer and must instead consider a claim to the Employment Tribunal. Before doing that, you need to contact ACAS to see if you can resolve the dispute with their assistance. You should contact ACAS within three months of any discrimination or you might lose your right to claim. 

For the last four years, potential Employment Tribunal Claimants have been put off by fees but these are no longer payable following a recent decision of the Supreme Court. It is, however, worth seeking legal advice before bringing a claim, as the law around pregnancy and maternity discrimination can be complex.

Many solicitors will act on a no-win-no-fee basis. You may even be able to fund advice using legal expenses insurance you might not know is included with your household insurance.

For more information about pregnancy and maternity discrimination, contact Louise Taft at Freemans Solicitors

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Freemans Solicitors directly.

Published on 24th August 2017
(Last updated 21st March 2018)

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