It is deeply concerning that, 30 years after the introduction of legislation seeking to protect workers from sex discrimination, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) describes the findings of its current investigation into workplace pregnancy-related discrimination as "far worse than even we expected".
The EOC has almost completed its biggest ever investigation and last week published its final interim report, Greater Expectations. It highlights numerous problems experienced by both employees and employers when dealing with pregnancy in the workplace and concludes that more must be done to help women and employers in making the current system work.
The report warns that if current trends continue, in the next five years more than one million women will experience workplace discrimination directly as a consequence of becoming pregnant.
Another alarming statistic is that 30,000 women are forced out of their jobs every year simply because they are pregnant. On top of this women, on average, return from maternity leave on a salary 5% lower than before.
However, women aren't taking action. Most remain silent feeling too vulnerable to raise the issue with their employers and just 3% of those who actually lose their jobs bring claims in the Employment Tribunal.
It is not just because of the stress involved in pursuing such matters; employees simply don't know what their rights are and the information isn't always easily available.
This is unlikely to continue if the EOC has its way. It recommends that women receive written notification of their rights at their first ante-natal appointment; this coupled with awareness campaigns, will heighten awareness of these important personal rights.
It is imperative, therefore, for employers to get their houses in order or risk embarrassing litigation and unlimited compensation claims.
The EOC's research finds that the main cause of such discrimination is unintentional and is a result of a lack of knowledge and understanding of current legislation.