Pregnant women and new parents have limited access to justice, demonstrated by the fact that fewer than 1% of victims take legal action against a discriminatory employer.
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination impacts many women’s lives. However, as the majority of potential claims in this area settle, the true extent of the problem is not matched by the tribunal statistics.
A survey carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in June 2017 found 77% of mothers said they had been subject to a negative and possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, or after their return from maternity leave.
Gender and sex discrimination is strongly associated with poor mental health. It plays a key role in the decline of mental well-being and the development of mental illnesses in women. For example, depression is twice as prevalent among women than men. Pregnancy discrimination can trigger the development of mental health conditions or worsen any symptoms. Discrimination causes intense emotions and feelings of fear, shame, panic, frustration, sadness, and anger. It also deprives women of the feelings of safety and control.
Gender discrimination happens to men and women from people of any gender or sex. However, discrimination against women is more common. Discrimination manifests in many different forms, from insidious and subtle to blatant and violent. Moreover, more subtle forms are so ingrained in society that they may be hard to spot.
Feeling stressed is common during pregnancy, but too much stress can make you uncomfortable. Stress can make you have trouble sleeping, have headaches, lose your appetite or overeat. High levels of stress that continues for a long time may cause health problems, like high blood pressure and heart disease and could increase your chances of complications during pregnancy, like premature birth or low birth weight. That’s because your body thinks it’s in “fight or flight” mode. You produce a surge of stress hormones, which affects your baby’s stress management system.
A systematic review and meta-analysis conducted in 2017, found a link between workplace stress and miscarriage, which definitely brings to light the importance of making adjustments and working with your employer to reduce the amount of stress coming from this environment. If you experience discrimination in pregnancy or upon returning to work, you should talk to your doctor, health visitor or a therapist for further support.
Harassment or discrimination can affect you financially. Should you pursue a claim at an Employment Tribunal for pregnancy and or maternity discrimination it is likely that you will incur significant costs in doing so. As a victim you may feel confused and broken about what happened to you which causes you to lose trust and confidence in your employer and it may lead to the loss of your job / career. This in turn can have a snowball effect on your family finances and financial security. It is important that you seek advice from your local Jobcentre plus or citizens advice on what benefits you may be entitled to if you are out of work. It can be difficult for some parents to admit that they need financial support in the form of benefits, especially if you have never had to use that support system before. You may feel embarrassed at first, but the benefits system is there to support individuals in times of need and it is there for everyone who qualifies.
Navigating the topic of workplace pregnancy and maternity discrimination can feel like a minefield, so let us make it easier for you. Take a peek at the free downloadable resources available at the bottom of this page and check out the frequently asked questions section. If the answer to your question is not there, feel free to get in touch via the ‘Ask a question’ tab.
You have the right to take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave if you’re having a baby and are legally classed as an employee. You have this right from your first day of starting a job. You must still stop work for a minimum of 2 weeks (4 weeks if you do factory work) after giving birth if you’re: Employed through an agency, Freelance, Self-employed, or on a Zero-hours contract. How many of the 52 weeks you take is up to you. You get the same amount of maternity leave and pay even if you have more than one baby, for example twins.
You’re protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal if it’s because of your pregnancy and maternity, no matter how long you’ve worked for your employer. This means if you’re dismissed while pregnant or on maternity leave, your employer must put the reason for your dismissal in writing. If your dismissal can be linked to your pregnancy or maternity, you could claim unfair dismissal and discrimination at an employment tribunal. It’s usually best to raise the issue with your employer first.
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for 39 weeks. For the first 6 weeks you get 90% of your average weekly earnings. For the following 33 weeks you get whichever is lower: £156.66 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings. You get the same amount of maternity pay even if you have more than one baby, for example twins. Some employers offer enhanced (‘contractual’) maternity pay that’s more than SMP (It cannot be less than SMP.) You should check your contract or talk to your employer to find out: if you’re entitled to enhanced maternity pay, the amount of pay you get and how long you get it for. If your employer offers enhanced maternity pay, you might have to repay some or all of the enhanced amount (anything more than SMP) if you: do not to return to work or leave shortly after maternity leave. This should be clearly set out in your contract.
By law, you have the right to reasonable time off with full pay for pregnancy-related (‘antenatal’) appointments and care before you have your baby. You have this right: from your first day of employment if you’re an employee, whether you work full time or part time. The antenatal appointments need to be on the advice of a doctor, nurse or midwife and can include: scans, pregnancy health checks, relaxation classes, for example pregnancy yoga and parent craft classes. If you have an appointment in the middle of a working day or shift, it’s a good idea to talk with your employer about how long it’ll take, however your employer cannot make you change an antenatal appointment to a different time if you do not want to.
Common forms of pregnancy and maternity discrimination and what to do if it happens to you.
Useful contacts for legal advice.