EHRC research reveals 'worrying' levels of pregnancy discrimination

More than one in 10 (11%) female employees have been dismissed, compulsively made redundant where others in their workplace were not, or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their jobs after maternity or pregnancy, according to research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

If this figure is replicated across the population as a whole, as many as 54,000 women across the UK could be losing their jobs each year due to pregnancy, the EHRC suggests.

More than four out of five (84%) employers said that supporting pregnant workers and those on maternity leave is in the interests of their organisations, but only 66% of mothers felt that their employer supported them willingly during pregnancy and when they returned to work.

EO of Working Families Sarah Jackson said that nobody should face discrimination and anyone that does should be supported to confront it.
“When women are forced out of work it’s a dreadful waste of skills and talents which this country needs,” she said. “The research also shows the reality gap.  Employers would like to get it right and know that they need to do better in order to retain the talents of their pregnant women and new mothers. 
“Organisations often have good intentions and the right policies but unless line managers are properly trained in maternity rights and are supported in their management of pregnant women and new mothers this is where it can, and often does, go wrong.”
The research also found around 20% of new mothers experienced harassment or negative comments from their colleagues, employer or manager when pregnant or returning from maternity leave.

When mothers were allowed to work flexibly, around half reported negative consequences such as receiving fewer opportunities at work or feeling that their opinion was less valued. One in 10 (10%) were discouraged by their employer from attending antenatal appointments.

In the wake of these findings, some experts have called on the government to investigate. Enei chief executive Denise Keating called the findings were “highly disappointing”.

She added: “For a new mother, money is tight and time is tighter, and we would suggest that new mothers who are being forced out of their jobs are being let down by the justice system, with the current time limits and employment tribunal fees acting as a barrier to justice for these women. We would call on the government to investigate whether employment tribunal fees in these cases are justified.”

Deputy chair of the EHRC Caroline Waters announced plans to launch an initiative to bring this issue into the public eye. “This research reveals the worrying levels of discrimination and disadvantage at work that women still face today,” she said. “Not only is discrimination unlawful, but it is also bad for business.”