In an ever-evolving business landscape, the welfare of employees continues to be at the forefront of responsible leadership.
A recent survey by Pregnant Then Screwed, encompassing the experiences of over 24,000 parents, has revealed the extent of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The implications for business owners are clear, and understanding the full scope of legal obligations and potential risks is paramount.
The findings included:
- 52% of mothers faced some form of discrimination when pregnant, on maternity leave or when returning to work.
- 20% of mothers left their job following a negative or discriminatory experience.
- 64% of pregnant women received hurtful comments about their appearance.
- 10% of women were bullied or harassed when pregnant or returning to work.
- 7% of women lost their jobs for various reasons.
The Business Risk
The figures above translate to significant business risk exposure. The UK has stringent protections for pregnant women and new mothers, but ignorance or neglect of the legislation can lead to costly Employment Tribunal claims, reputational damage that can affect your brand’s integrity and the loss of valuable talents and skills.
What You Need to Know – Key Rights and Protections
- The right to time off for ante-natal appointments.
- Up to 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave regardless of length of service.
- The right to return to the same or comparable job.
- Depending on length of service and salary, the right to statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance.
- Extensive health and safety protection while pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Redundancy protection where there is priority for suitable, alternative employment for an employee who is on maternity, adoption, or shared parental leave over other individuals at risk of redundancy where a vacancy exists.
- Crucially, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination, harassment and victimisation in relation to nine “protected characteristics” one of which is pregnancy and maternity. The Act also protects job applicants and recruitment needs to avoid discrimination and conscious or unconscious bias. So, don’t ask about a woman’s plans to have children or about her childcare arrangements or decide not to appoint someone because they are pregnant. No length of service is needed for a discrimination claim and compensation is unlimited. There is also a separate award for injury to feelings.
- The Employment Rights Act 1996 protects women from detriment relating to pregnancy, childbirth or maternity and any dismissal for a reason connected with these is automatically unfair. No qualifying period of service is needed unlike an “ordinary” unfair dismissal claim where two years’ service is required.
Employers need to be aware that new rights will be introduced in due course.
- The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 is expected to be implemented in summer 2024. Employees will be able to make two requests in each 12-month period rather than one. Employers will have to consult with employees before rejecting a request and will need to deal with it in two months rather than three. Not included in the Act, but expected to be introduced at the same time, is making the right to request flexible working a day one right (26 weeks’ continuous employment is needed currently).
- The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 will extend the current redundancy protection so that a mother returning from a year of maternity leave can receive six months’ additional redundancy protection. There is currently no date for this change.
Transforming Challenges into Opportunities
While these new findings are disconcerting, they also present an opportunity for forward-thinking leaders. Many employers want to support pregnant employees or those on – or returning from – maternity leave because they value and want to retain their talent and skills. This is increasingly important at a time of a skills shortage and a competitive job market. This proactive approach is not just ethical; it’s strategic and sends a powerful message about your organisation’s values and commitment to employee wellbeing.