For most women, becoming pregnant is a joyous experience. But, as this week's Personnel Today and Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) survey shows, for too many it can instead be an unmitigated fi-nancial, career and employment disaster.
The survey, published today, is the latest stage of an ongoing EOC investigation launched in the summer into why so many employers find managing pregnancy so difficult, and what can be done to curb discrimination.
EOC chair, Julie Mellor, estimates around 1,000 pregnancy-based discrimination cases are brought each year, which represents a potentially huge bill for employers. Women who have been sacked because they are pregnant make up the largest number of callers to its helpline.
What is clear, both from the EOC's interim report in September and from the latest study, is that employers, particularly line managers, are often left floundering simply because they do not know what their legal obligations and responsibilities are. What all sides want, it appears, is someone to hold their hand and guide them through safely.
This is where HR can come into play, says Mellor. "HR needs to be providing the guidelines to line managers on rights and responsibilities. These need to include really practical stuff like timelines and walking through the process," she says.
The EOC is working to develop a toolkit that employers and HR can use and adapt to help the process along, she adds.
"HR also needs to make sure its organisation has the right policies on flexible working in place, and the line managers have the practical support needed to deliver that," she concludes.
Here, three organisations explain how they manage pregnancy at work.
Sandy Menzies, jeweller
Aberdeen-based jeweller Sandy Menzies employs just 15 people - 13 of them women. If one becomes pregnant, experienced jewellers are not exactly thick on the ground, explains director Jacqui Grant.
In the past 18 months around four staff - or just over a quarter of her workforce - have taken maternity leave.
Full-time staff undergo seven months' in-house training, which is obviously impractical when it comes to temporary cover. "It creates a big workload for the other employees," she admits.
Another major issue is helping workers who have taken time off to have children feel that they have not been forgotten and to help them back into the business if they want to return, says Gr