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Have you lost your job for being pregnant?

NewLaw Solicitors

Law

Posted 5th September 2015.

Damien Burns, Employment Law Solicitor at NewLaw, is all too familiar with claims brought against employers who have unfairly dismissed employees relating to pregnancy and maternity leave.

“Maternity discrimination claims brought at tribunal may have fallen, but research indicates that it could now be more prominent than ever. A new report commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) estimates that around 54,000 women may be forced out of their jobs each year due to discrimination linked to maternity leave”, said Damien.

This was based on a survey of over 3,200 women and is almost twice the figure identified in similar research from 2005. It found that 1 in 9 mothers reported that they had been dismissed, made compulsory redundant or had been treated so poorly that they had been forced to leave their job. 10% of those surveyed felt they had been treated less favourably by their employers after having a baby and 1 in 5 new mothers experienced negative comments or harassment from the employer, colleagues or managers. While it is also worth noting that 66% of mothers felt their employer supported them willingly throughout their pregnancy and upon their return to work, it is clear that despite discrimination legislation a worrying number of women are still reporting unfair treatment.

By contrast of the 3,000 plus employers surveyed, 84% believed that supporting employees during pregnancy and maternity leave was in the interests of their organisations. Two thirds of managers state they do not think pregnancy puts an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace and 8 out 10 agree that pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave are just as committed to their work as their colleagues.

The findings are however based on employer’s and mother’s perceptions of treatment in the workplace. In the case of mother’s it is based on their view of whether any adverse treatment was because of pregnancy and/or maternity leave and the survey does not make it clear that such treatment may not necessarily fall within the legal definition of discrimination. However, even with this in mind, there is a clear disparity between the experiences reported by employers and those reported by mothers. This is no more evident than when we look at the statistics relating to the number of complaints made. Here only 5% of employers reported either a formal complaint and/or informal discussions with employees regarding alleged pregnancy or maternity related discrimination in the last three years. By contrast 1 in 5 mothers (22%) reported having raised such issues either formally or informally.

Any disparity in perceptions aside, what is clear is that few of those mothers reporting unfair treatment are taking more formal action to enforce their rights under discrimination legislation. While there are likely to be numerous reasons for this, many have suggested that the Tribunal fee system has played a part. Figures released since the introduction of the fees have found that pregnancy related discrimination claims have fallen by some 40% and maternity and pregnancy claims now make up just 3% of all discrimination claims. Costs can be up to £1,200 when demands on any mother’s time and income are at their most restricted, and perhaps too costly for many, especially where there is no guarantee of a favourable outcome.

Damien continued, “It is likely that there are pregnant women who have been discriminated against who may not know where to turn if they have received bad treatment from their employer.

‘Some may feel that they cannot do their job properly, have been forced to return from maternity leave to lower grade posts, or, perhaps, leave them in such a vulnerable situation emotionally that they consider leaving their employment altogether.”

If you are unsure about your employment rights in respect of pregnancy or maternity leave, or, have any concerns regarding discrimination or less favourable treatment, it is important to contact a specialist employment solicitor who can help explain your rights.

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