20th February 2018

Equalities watchdog finds Employers are still ‘in dark ages’ regarding pregnant women’s rights.

Figures from a poll conducted on behalf of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), has shown that 59% of employers (6 in 10) believe that female job applicants should have to disclose whether or not they are pregnant.

The poll also showed almost a third of bosses think it acceptable to ask women about their future plans to have children as part of the recruitment process.

According to the survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of EHRC, of those polled, 46% said it was acceptable to try and find out if female job applicants had young children.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the EHRC commented “it is a depressing reality, that when it comes to the rights of pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace, we are still living in the dark ages.

“We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant.

“Yet we know that women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews.”

The Chief Executive further noted that many employers need more support to help them better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers at work.

The report figures show that many businesses’ attitudes are far behind the law, with the figures taken from more than 1000 business decision makers within the private sector.

The poll has revealed the attitudes of many employers about women deemed to “take advantage” of their pregnancy or about women who are seen as a “burden” on the rest of their team.

Some employers also feel that women should work for an organisation for a year before they can decide whether they have children.

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary stated that thousands of women are forced from jobs each year due to pregnancy discrimination, which scars both lives and careers.

The EHRC is now calling on employers to try and eliminate maternity and pregnancy discrimination along with other such attitudes.

Deborah Scales, Head of Employment Law at Cartwright King comments:

"Whatever personal views UK bosses hold they need to comply with the law or risk substantial claims for compensation. Pregnant women and those on maternity leave have a raft of rights not to be discriminated against or treated unfavourably under The Equality Act 2010, the Employment Rights Act 1996 and The Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999. This EHRC report comes as no surprise as discrimination relating to pregnancy and maternity is one of our busiest practice areas. One area where employers and their line managers often breach the law is by making unjustified criticisms of a woman’s performance whilst she is pregnant or going through a “sham” redundancy procedure whilst she is on maternity leave.

"The key rights for employees are: 

  • Time off for antenatal appointments.
  • Health and safety protection while pregnant and breastfeeding.
  • Up to 52 weeks' maternity leave. Employees are entitled to one year's statutory maternity leave (made up of ordinary maternity leave (OML) and additional maternity leave (AML)), regardless of length of service.
  • Statutory maternity pay (SMP) for up to 39 weeks.
  • The right to return to the same job.
  • Priority for alternative employment in redundancy cases.
  • The right to request flexible working conditions on return to work.
  • Protection from dismissal, detriment or discrimination by reason of pregnancy or maternity.

"Agency workers will qualify for time off for antenatal appointments (after 12 weeks), and from discrimination, and SMP. Other non-employees, such as those defined as workers on zero hours contracts will also, in most cases, qualify for protection from discrimination.

"Despite these rights there is nothing to stop an employer from disciplining, dismissing or selecting for redundancy a pregnant employee ,or one on maternity leave, where it can genuinely justify doing so. The most important factor in avoiding liability and awards for damages (which can include uncapped loss of earnings and compensation for “injury to feelings”) is to demonstrate the business’s treatment of the employee was not connected in any way whatsoever with her pregnancy or maternity."

If you would like advice on this complex area of law, please contact our Employment Law team on 0808 168 5550 or email

For further information please get in touch with our dedicated team.

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