Pregnancy Discrimination

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So you've got through your twelve week scan, and are now ready to tell your employer that you are pregnant. You're probably not looking forward to it. You've gemmed up on your maternity rights and you know the law is on your side, but still, you're wondering what you can do if you are not treated fairly as a result of your change in status. Here's our quick guide to dealing with pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

The increasingly bleak picture of pregnancy discrimination

Every year in the UK nearly 50% of working pregnant women experience some kind of discrimination or disadvantage as a result of being pregnant. According to Rosalind Bragg of the campaign group Maternity Action, more than 30,000 women a year lose their jobs because of pregnancy discrimination, but only around 3% of those who do so will attempt to seek financial compensation through an Employment Tribunal. It is estimated that less than 1 in 20 women whom experience these problems seek any kind of legal advice, probably because of what they perceive as the prohibitive costs of taking action. Despite this, high profile examples of employers complaining about the 'generosity' of maternity rights have grown during the economic downturn.

The kinds of discrimination women experience include;

  • losing their job
  • not being considered for promotion,
  • being disciplined over performance,
  • being denied access to training opportunities
  • being refused a pregnancy-specific risk assessment
  • being refused their normal employment rights and benefits.

So what are your legal rights?

As a pregnant woman you have the legal right not to suffer discrimination as a result of your pregnant status. This means that your employer cannot dismiss you, demote you, discipline you or treat you unfairly by virtue of your being pregnant. For the full range of maternity rights you are entitled to, see our article Your pregnancy and your employment.

How to help yourself if you are being discriminated against

There are a number of things you can do if you feel you are being discriminated against in your workplace.

  • Keep a record of all that happens, in a diary or notebook, inaccessible to others in your workplace. Detail what was said, who was present, and any evidence of similar incidents with other colleagues.
  • Tell your employer about the problems you are experiencing, in writing, and keep a copy. Start with your line manager, unless you feel that it is he/she who is treating you unfairly, in which case go higher.
  • Speak to your HR Representative or your Trades Union Representative.
  • Get advice. Maternity Action, Citizen's Advice Bureau and Working Families can all help.
  • Instigate your employer's grievance procedure, in order to make a formal complaint. This usually involves you providing a written statement and taking part in a formal meeting to discuss the content, after which your employer reaches a decision, and informs you in writing of the action they will take, if any. If your employer does not have a grievance procedure, then you can use the ACAS grievance procedure.

Taking your case to an Employment Tribunal

If none of the above courses of action remedies the situation, you may want to consider going to an employment tribunal. It can be a costly affair in terms of meeting legal fees, but there is no upper limit on the amount of compensation you could receive, so after consideration with your legal advice team, you may feel it is worth your while to pursue a case. You must make your claim within three months less one day of the most recent discriminatory incident, and although you do not need to have worked for your employer for any particular length of time, your employer must have known you were pregnant, and you will need to prove your case. The Citizen's Advice Bureau website mentioned above has useful information about going to Employment Tribunals.

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This internet site provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. If you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child, you should always consult a doctor or other healthcare professional.