People would be forgiven for thinking that discrimination against women who are pregnant or on maternity leave is a thing of the past; however, this is unfortunately not the case and discrimination against pregnant women happens more than 50,000 times each year.
What the law says
Since the Equality Act 2010 came into force, it has been unlawful to unfairly discriminate against women who are pregnant, on maternity leave or breastfeeding. Discrimination or unfair treatment are grounds for a claim at an employment tribunal; however, it is possible for employers to make pregnant women or those on maternity leave redundant if it can be shown that such a decision was unconnected to the pregnancy or maternity leave.
What pregnant women can do
The main course of action open to a woman who is pregnant or on maternity leave and who thinks she has been discriminated against is to take the employer to an employment tribunal; however, this is a course of action that women who are pregnant or on maternity leave may not be able to face, especially as the time limit for bringing such a claim is just three months from when the discrimination occurred. If a woman is on maternity leave, she may not relish the prospect of legal action with a very young child; meanwhile, for women who are pregnant, a tribunal claim can make pregnancy even more stressful.
Alternatives to legal action are first of all for the woman to discuss the situation with her employer. The employer may be unaware of what it is legally allowed to do when a woman is pregnant or on maternity leave and once clear about what the law says, the situation could resolve itself.
Women may also find it beneficial to share their experience of pregnancy or maternity discrimination with other women. This can be done through an online project such as Pregnant then Screwed, which has recorded the stories of many women who have experienced pregnancy or maternity leave discrimination and can reassure women that they are not alone.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has also launched an awareness initiative called #worksforme, which is aimed at reducing pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace and provides useful information for employers and those who are pregnant or on maternity leave.
Although pregnancy discrimination is against the law, it is useful to known the other courses of action available to those who are pregnant or on maternity leave should they not wish to take their employer to an employment tribunal.
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