The government has announced the launch of a consultation on strengthening laws that protect new and expectant mothers from discrimination.
An August 2016 House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report found there has been a ‘shocking increase' in workplace pregnancy discrimination over the past decade. The government has responded with the news of the consultation, to be launched “in due course”.
Margot James, minister for small business, consumers and corporate responsibility, said the government is “committed” to taking action.
“The fact that women face discrimination in the workplace as a result of pregnancy or for taking maternity leave is wholly unacceptable and unlawful,” she said. “It is shocking that some employers still behave in this way and alienate a key group of their workforce. It makes no business sense. The government is committed to taking action to tackle this problem."
Despite calls for the three-month time limit on pregnancy and maternity discrimination tribunals to be increased to six months, the government said it will not give women extra time to take their cases to an employment tribunal.
Responding to evidence that many new mothers struggle to afford tribunal fees, the government said it will publish the conclusions of its review into fees shortly.
Chief executive of Working Families Sarah Jackson welcomed the fees review, but reiterated the need for an increased time period for cases to be brought.
“The government must make it clear that a six-month time limit for pregnancy and maternity employment tribunal claims should be the norm," she said. "The onus for asking for an extension cannot rest with women who have been discriminated against."
She added: “There’s no doubt from our experience that the introduction of upfront fees for employment tribunals is hampering access to justice. The review of the impact of fees is long overdue – the Westminster government should make the same commitment the Scottish government has to scrapping these punitive charges.
“We hear from women experiencing maternity and pregnancy discrimination every single week,” she added. “The government is right to say these illegal practices have no place in British working life."
According to data from the BIS and EHRC report Pregnancy and Maternity-Related Discrimination and Disadvantage: Experiences of Mothers more than three-quarters (77%) of mothers experienced at least one potentially discriminatory or negative experience in the workplace, and 61% reported two or more such experiences.