Are you a small or medium sized business that employs women? Are you aware that the issue of pregnancy and maternity discrimination has recently been in the spotlight? Well, you need to be aware of the rules – so you do not break the law.
Research by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), on behalf of the Government, and Citizens Advice have both highlighted issues and with pressure groups such as Pregnant Then Screwed adding their weight to the argument, the Government is committed to investigating the problem.
Research carried out by the EHRC among 3,000 women found that three quarters of working mothers said they had been affected by pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
It found that one in five mothers said they experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer or colleagues. Many were kept in the dark about promotion opportunities, denied training or even threatened with dismissal.
Earlier this year, Citizens Advice said the number of women seeking its advice after experiencing a cut in hours, being put on a zero-hours contract or being forced out of their job after becoming pregnant had risen by nearly 60 per cent in the past year.
In the year to June, 3,307 women turned to Citizens Advice for help with maternity discrimination issues, up from 2,099 in the previous year.
The law is clear and whilst an employer can sometimes make an employee redundant if they are on maternity leave, the rules are strict. For example, for a woman to be made redundant because she is on maternity leave or pregnant, then the dismissal is discriminatory and is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said the rise in the number of women experiencing maternity discrimination is very worrying but not at all surprising.
She said: “The narrative put forward by business about pregnancy and maternity is negative; mothers are considered to be an expensive and unproductive burden.
“However, research shows a very different picture – mothers tend to be efficient, valuable and dedicated members of the team.
“We need to find new ways to challenge this negative narrative, whilst simultaneously empowering women to challenge discriminatory behaviour.”
Redundancy is not just affecting women who are pregnant or on maternity leave. Recent downturns in the economy have hit female-dominated sectors such as retail, hospitality and administration as well as the more male-dominated traditional sectors such as construction and manufacturing.
But there is Government concern that women are being unfairly targeted for redundancy.
So SMEs, where women can make up a larger percentage of the workforce, you need to be aware of the issues. Ignorance is not an excuse and employers should be knowledgeable about employment law and when something is unlawful.