The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills commissioned a programme of research to investigate the prevalence of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace in 2015. The researchers might well have expected to find a reduction in discrimination compared to similar 2005 research conducted by the Equal Opportunities Commission. Yet the research in fact found an increase in such discrimination, with the following findings being particularly notable:
- 77% of mothers surveyed said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience at work in connection with pregnancy (compared to 45% of respondents who reported dismissal or disadvantage in connection with pregnancy in the 2005 research);
- 70% of employers believed women should declare upfront during recruitment if they are pregnant;
- one in ten pregnant women said their employer discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments during work time; and
- two in five of the mothers surveyed felt that there was a risk to, or impact on, their health and safety at work because, for example, they were not allowed to work flexibly or take breaks when they asked.
Following the research, the EHRC published a set of recommendations for change in March this year and the government published its response. In July 2016, the Women and Equalities Committee (the committee) felt compelled to intervene and produce its own report into pregnancy and maternity discrimination (the report). This welcomed the research, but suggested that the government response to the findings needed to be more robust if pregnancy-related discrimination is to decline over the next decade.
The committee’s proposals present a good opportunity to consider the law in this area and what measures might help to address the problems that new and expectant mothers face without putting an undue burden on employers.
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This article first appeared in the October 2016 edition of Employment Law Journal www.lawjournals.co.uk