31st August 2016

A report by the Women and Equalities Committee has called for ‘urgent action’ to protect new and expectant mothers at work. The committee found that 11% of the women surveyed reported being either dismissed, made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not, or treated so poorly that they felt they had to leave their job.

The report says that 54,000 women lost their jobs in 2015 as a result of pregnancy discrimination. Employment law consultant Emma O’Leary took a look at the report. She says: “This latest report claims that pregnant women and mothers are subjected to more discrimination today than 10 years ago.  Whether this is because discrimination in the workplace has actually increased or women are now more willing to report it remains to be seen but, in any event may be irrelevant. The point is it appears to still be prevalent.”

The Women and Equalities Commission report calls for various recommendations and new legislation to protect pregnant employees and mothers from being treated less favourably than their child free or male comparators.

Emma O’Leary continues: “As it stands, UK legislation already automatically places this group in a protected category and places a strict burden on employers to ensure that pregnant employees and mothers are treated equally, provided with a number of rights and employers undertake risk assessments when they are informed an employee is pregnant to ensure they have safe working conditions.  The report suggests that the most vulnerable are casual or agency workers who may not have the right to claim unfair dismissal for example.  That said, they do have the right not to suffer discrimination so if that dismissal was on the grounds of their pregnancy or the fact they had children, they would still be afforded protection.”

Another recommendation made by the Commission is that that the Government should review the 3 month time limit for bringing a claim in maternity and pregnancy discrimination cases and should substantially reduce tribunal fees.  Emma O’Leary says: “The suggestion is that women have a lot to contend with after having a child and may not have the inclination to bring any action against their employer.  This could be tricky and it would mean a huge overhaul of the Tribunal Rules and Procedures. Strengthening the maternity protection in this way might suggest that a person suffering from disability discrimination or race discrimination has less to contend with. Employees are protected under the Equality Act and employers should ensure that they fully understand the different types of protection and discrimination and act according to the law at all times.”

She continues: “Overall it’s an interesting report but, in reality, the chance of any overhaul of the maternity or tribunal rules before Brexit is fully implemented is unlikely.”

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