Pregnant workers and new mothers are being unfairly treated in the workplace, with some seeing cuts to their hours, being transferred to zero-hours contracts or even being forced to leave their employment, according to a new report. Citizens Advice said it has seen a 25 per cent increase in the number of people seeking advice about pregnancy or maternity rights at work in the past year, with more than 22,000 visitors to the charity website.
One woman went to Citizens Advice after her company reduced her hours when she said she was pregnant. Her boss said there was not enough work for her; however, the company was taking on new staff at the time. Another contacted her employer because she was not getting her maternity pay, only to be told that her contract had ended.
Research commissioned by the government also showed that three out of four pregnant women or new mothers were discriminated against at work and one in nine lost their jobs. This is a significant rise from 2005, when 45 per cent of the women surveyed experienced discrimination.
The women taking part in the survey felt there were many reasons that discrimination was worsening, including the high cost of employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200, a lack of information about employees’ rights, and the stress involved in making a claim. They also felt there could be repercussions if they stood up and made a complaint.
At a time when mothers-to-be are facing the additional expense and concerns of having a baby, they should feel supported in the workplace rather than threatened.
A government spokesperson said it does not make good business sense to discriminate against women, with attracting and retaining female talent and experience essential for economic growth.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has called for reforms to protect women, including taking steps to ensure that interviewers do not ask whether a female applicant intends to have children.
There are also calls to raise employers’ awareness of their legal duties. This could be done through personnel or human resources departments, which could issue fact sheets or hold workshops on discrimination in the workplace. Often it is useful for someone from the HR department to sit in on job interviews to make sure the questions are fair and that all applicants are treated equally.
All department heads should be aware of the issues surrounding pregnancy discrimination, particularly paid time off, attending ante-natal classes and the rights for women to ask for flexible working and maternity leave and pay.
By implementing a few guidelines, companies can make sure they stay within the law while making women feel valued and secure in the workplace.
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