Maternity Discrimination

Employment Law


Women who take maternity leave are being discriminated against, as the number of redundancies at firms around the country continues to increase.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) believe that annually around 30,000 women lose their jobs because of pregnancy, despite efforts to protect their employment status in legislation.

Lawyers and campaign groups believe that employers see mothers and pregnant employees as soft targets, although no data is available as the government has not been compiling figures. The potential numbers may be higher as some women opt to keep quiet and not cause a fuss.

The EHRC itself faced criticism at a tribunal when Brid Johal said that her role was downgraded and the man, who was brought in to provide cover for her, was promoted above her while she was on maternity leave.

"We have seen an increase in the number of women being chosen for redundancy because they are pregnant, which is unlawful," said Rosalind Bragg, director of charity Maternity Action. "We are very concerned that some unscrupulous employers are using the recession as an excuse to unfairly target pregnant women and women on maternity leave."

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Liesel Whitfield from Employment law firm Irwin Mitchell said: "Employers should be aware that employees who are pregnant and/or on maternity leave have particular protection from being dismissed. Selection for redundancy on grounds of pregnancy will constitute an automatically unfair dismissal and is also likely to amount to direct sex discrimination, which can attract substantial awards of compensation. Equally, employers should remember that employees who are on maternity leave are still interested in what is happening at work, and are entitled to be involved in any discussions about the business, including redundancy consultations.

"Employees who are on maternity leave when they are pregnant have an automatic right to be offered any role which represents a suitable alternative for them, and a failure to observe this right can also place employers at risk of employment tribunal claims. All of these protections are designed to ensure that women are not placed at a disadvantage purely because of their pregnancy, and help employers to remember that they are a valuable asset in the workplace."