Rise in number of women seeking advice on pregnancy discrimination sparks updated guidance
We welcome the news this week that ACAS has updated its guidance for employers on pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The updated guidance follows a reported 10% increase in the number of women contacting the conciliation service for advice about these matters in the last year alone: 14,000 women telephoned ACAS for advice about pregnancy or maternity issues last year.
We know that the statistics about the number of Employment Tribunal claims lodged in this area do not tell the real story about how commonplace this type of discrimination really is.
This is made abundantly clear by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s joint research in this area which found that:
- around one in nine mums surveyed said that they were either sacked; singled out for redundancy; or treated so terribly that they felt like they had to leave their job as a result of their pregnancy; and
- one in five mothers said they experienced harassing or otherwise negative comments related to their pregnancy or flexible working from their employer or their colleagues.
Women should feel supported by their employer throughout their pregnancy and their return to work, not treated differently because they are having a baby.
We hope that the updated ACAS guidance along with the scrapping of Employment Tribunal fees will encourage women who are treated unfairly when pregnant, on maternity leave or returning to work to speak up so that businesses know poor treatment of pregnant staff and maternity returners will not be tolerated.
Employers place a lot of emphasis of having “family friendly” policies but we know that what really matters is how these policies are used in practice. Having policies that welcome flexible working requests is all very well but pretty irrelevant for the employee on maternity leave being warned that her job might significantly change if she goes part-time.
Time and time again, we also here from our clients the story of communication breaking down between them and their employer during their maternity leave; once valued employees can be left feeling forgotten, in some instances replaced, and in any event very much out of the loop.
This is why training line managers on how pregnant members of staff should be supported throughout their pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work is vital. Lines of communication must remain open. Employees should start their maternity leave knowing when and how they will be contacted by their employer.
Additionally, more can and should be done to support women who face pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace, including improving their access to information and advice to ensure every pregnant woman is aware of their rights and their employer’s obligations towards them. Here in Scotland, surely this information can and should be provided as part of the baby box? We would love to hear the Scottish Government’s view on this.