Discrimination Against Pregnant Women in the Workplace

Millie Parkes (Student)

It has become a well-known fact that the United Kingdom is suffering hardship in many sectors, but the threat of job-loss and redundancy for pregnant and women with young children is widely increasing.

Joeli Brearley, founder of the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, has recently said that the pandemic has caused a surge of discrimination against pregnant women and mothers at work.

The Law

The main law which should prevent such discrimination is The Equality Act 2010.

For pregnant women specifically, the Act states that it is unlawful to be discriminated against for being pregnant or suffering a pregnancy-related illness. If you are it may mean that you can take your employer to a tribunal.

Protection from Discrimination as a Pregnant Woman (and After!)

From the time that you become pregnant until when your maternity leave ends (if eligible) or two weeks after you child was born (if not eligible), there is a protection period. This protection period protects you against discrimination within the workplace.

Even after giving birth and returning to work, if you have been treated unfavourably after this, you could still be protected against discrimination because of your sex.

Similarly, it is unlawful to discriminate against you for:

  • Being on maternity leave
  • Having been on maternity leave
  • Trying to take maternity leave, which you are entitled to.

Reversing the Progress During the Pandemic

Brearley highlighted that 15% of mothers and pregnant women (in a survey of 20,000 mothers) have been made redundant or expected to be, during the pandemic. This is said to be reversing the progress of an increase in maternal employment by 9% in the last 20 years.

Brearley’s charity ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ also emphasised that prior to the pandemic, they would provide legal advice to around 3,000 women per year, who were experiencing pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace. Since the pandemic, they have provided legal advice to over 32,000 women – an almost 1000% increase.

The Women’s Budget Group also explains their findings for women to have been discriminated against more-so throughout the pandemic compared to their spouses, by finding that ‘ Of those furloughed, mothers were more likely to be put on furlough to look after their children (27%) than fathers (23%) and One in five mothers were made redundant or lost hours because of caring responsibilities, compared to 13% of fathers.

Traditional stereotyping

Brearley added that ‘there are deeply entrenched gender stereotypes that mean women blame themselves when they get pregnant and get pushed out of their jobs.’ This basic sexism is all too clear according to the British Social Attitudes Survey, which highlighted that one in five people think women with child under school age should stay at home.

However, it is hoped that  the pandemic has brought some positive changes to families, with some fathers being able to spend more time caring for their children than before March 2020. The Fawcett Society have stated that if this became the norm, it could reduce the ‘motherhood pay penalty’ and help aid maternal and pregnancy employment within the workplace.

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on Equality and Discrimination related matters. If you wish to book an appointment with us call 01782 294 800 or alternatively email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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