Pregnant women across the country are being treated so badly by employers that the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) is to launch a major investigation.
The equality body is so concerned at widespread reports of discrimination against pregnant women that it will start an inquiry later this year.
Julie Mellor, chair of the EOC, said the investigation will look into the number of women affected as well as the cost to individuals and the economy.
"Women should not have to face this problem in the 21st century. Discriminating against expectant employees often causes talented women to simply give up on work completely, which harms their families and also damages the UK economy, which needs their skills," she said.
The investigation was prompted by trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt following an industrial tribunal which heard how a new mother received her P45 inside a congratulations card.
"It is depressing that something as natural as childbirth is still seen as an alien and unwelcome concept by some employers," said Hewitt.
This was supported by extensive research by the EOC, which showed this type of complaint arose most often on the group's helpline and that 200 similar tribunals had taken place between 1999-2002.The evidence also highlights the breadth of discrimination that appears to affect the whole workforce. The EOC claims it has received complaints from all industries, with professions as diverse as solicitors, dental nurses and shop assistants affected.
In addition to dismissal, pregnant women also endure a lack of promotion, change of salary terms, non-payment of bonus and unfair criticism.
According to research, many women who leave work to have children subsequently struggle to return to the same employment status pre-maternity.
By Ross Wigham
The case that galvanised Hewitt into action
- The catalyst for the investigation was the case of a new mother who was sent a congratulations card from her employer, which also contained her P45.
Carol Bonehill was awarded alm