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Discrimination towards pregnant women in the work place - are they a burden?

View profile for Charlotte Holman
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The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (the EHRC) survey reveals a worrying trend in employers’ attitudes towards the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.

The EHRC has published the results of a survey with the aim of trying to understand employers’ attitudes towards pregnancy and maternity discrimination. It would seem that even though women have been protected from pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work for more than 40 years, more than a third of employers still believe it is reasonable to ask a woman about her plans to have children and four in ten employers revealed that they felt pregnancy ‘puts an unnecessary cost burden’ on the workplace.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the EHRC, said, ‘It is a depressing reality that, when it comes to the rights of pregnant woman and new mothers in the workplace, we are still living in the dark ages. We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant. Yet we also know that women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews. It’s clear that many employers need more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.’

The EHRC has launched a campaign, Working Forward, in order to try and get companies to sign up, eliminate discriminatory practices and commit to improving workplaces for pregnant women and new parents by treating them fairly. An earlier research programme conducted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the EHRC revealed findings that around one in nine mothers reported that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly that they felt they had no choice but to leave their job. One in five mothers said that they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and/or their colleagues.

Discrimination is not only unlawful and disadvantages individuals, but it can also mean that employers may be missing out on attracting and retaining female talent. Whether or not this new initiative goes any way towards reducing discriminatory practices in the work place remains to be seen, but what is clear is that there needs to be a huge shift in attitudes towards pregnant women and new mothers from both employers and society as a whole.

If you would like to discuss this matter, or any other employment matter further, please do not hesitate to contact one of our employment specialists on 01268 244150 or alternatively email me at