54,000 new mothers forced out of jobs every year

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination: 10% of women were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments. Photo: Mito Images/REX
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination: 10% were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments. Mito Images/REX

Around 54,000 new mothers a year lose their jobs through pregnancy and maternity discrimination, according to research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

More than one woman in 10 surveyed said that they had been dismissed, made redundant or treated so poorly that they had to leave their jobs.

The research, carried out in partnership with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, also found around one new mother in five experienced harassment or negative comments from their colleagues, employer or manager when pregnant or returning from maternity leave.

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Caroline Waters, EHRC deputy chair, said: “This research reveals the worrying levels of discrimination and disadvantage at work that women still face today. Not only is discrimination unlawful, but it is also bad for business.

“That’s why today we’re launching a major initiative to bring this issue into the public eye, improve awareness of the law and work with business and other groups to find workable solutions.”

Dianah Worman, diversity adviser for the CIPD, said: “It’s time for employers to do some housekeeping in their organisations to make sure hidden problems and difficulties are surfaced and dealt with quickly to ensure they have both diverse and inclusive working environments.

“This will allow them to benefit from the added value women can contribute. At a time when the war for talent is hotting up, action is essential. It’s nonsense for talent to be wasted and discrimination in pregnancy and maternity, whether intended or not, is an urgent area to be addressed.”

There is a clear gap between what employers say they perceive as the benefits, and what the reality is” – Chris Tutton, Irwin Mitchell

The research suggests that pregnancy and maternity discrimination for some women is commonplace, as the following findings corroborate:

  • one in 10 of those surveyed are discouraged from attending antenatal appointments;
  • nine per cent said that they were treated worse on their return to work than they were before their pregnancy;
  • seven per cent said that they were put under pressure to hand in their notice;
  • when allowed to work flexibly, around half reported negative consequences, such as receiving fewer opportunities at work or feeling that their opinion was less valued;
  • the impact on mothers under the age of 25 was greater, with around 6% experiencing dismissal, compared with 1% across all age groups;
  • one mother in 10 under age 25 said that they felt so poorly treated they had to leave, compared with 5% of mothers over 40; and
  • one mother in four (26%) reported too little contact with their employers during their maternity leave.

Rosalind Bragg, director of Maternity Action, said: “Funding is urgently needed for specialist advice and support for women to pursue unfair and unlawful treatment by their employer.

“Employment tribunal fees which deny access to justice to the vast majority of women should be scrapped.”

In the first half of 2013, before employment tribunal fees were introduced, 764 tribunal claims were made where the claimant had suffered a detriment or had been unfairly dismissal in relation to pregnancy. This compares with 491 in the same period in 2014, after fees had been introduced. For sex discrimination cases, the figures were 12,327 and 1,713 respectively.

Chris Tutton, employment partner at national law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: “Equality laws have been around in the UK for many years and have extended significant protections to pregnant workers and those who are returning from maternity leave. The results of the survey are, however, deeply concerning as there is a clear gap between what employers say they perceive as the benefits, and what the reality is.”

The findings were based on interviews with 3,254 mothers with children under two years old and 3,034 UK employers – the largest survey of its kind.

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