Employers discriminate to avoid cost of maternity leave

The equalities commission has admitted that it is “not surprising” that employers are discriminating against young women to protect themselves from the costs of maternity leave.

A survey of 416 business managers by recruitment website HireScores.com revealed that half of them factored in age and relationship status when deciding whether to recruit a female candidate.

Yet the Equality and Human Rights Commission said the unequal provision of maternity leave, where women are entitled to 52 weeks compared to men’s two weeks, meant employers were likely to be more wary about employing women.

A spokesman told Personnel Today that: “The UK has the most unequal leave arrangements in Europe: women get 52 weeks, as opposed to just two for men. So it’s not surprising that this survey suggests some employers treat applications from women less favourably.

“Bridging this divide would deliver more equality for women in the workplace, as well as more opportunities for a modern generation of fathers who want to be more involved at home.”

The survey also found more than 80% of managers would ask female candidates intimate details about their current and future family plans if the law permitted it, so as to avoid employing someone who could seek maternity leave in the near future. It singled out small and medium enterprises (SME) as the most likely to take this approach.

But employer groups were shocked at the survey findings. A British Chambers of Commerce spokesman said: “This is surprising as employers regularly tell us that they want to recruit the best suited person for the job going. It doesn’t matter to them whether that person is male, female, young or old.”

A spokeswoman for The Federation of Small Businesses added that the figures came as a “surprise” because small businesses tended to be seen by women as the best employers due to their flexible working opportunities.

Meanwhile, the EHRC has today called for an overhaul of current equal pay legislation to address the gender pay gap, which stands at 17% for full-time roles.

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