Additional legal protection is being considered by the government for new and expectant mothers who feel that they are being forced out of their jobs and therefore being discriminated against.
A consultation is believed to be launching ‘in due course’ in order to further strengthen the existing law against discrimination of this kind which is believed to be in response to the recommendation that MPs made on the Women and Equalities Committee.
It is against the law to discriminate against a woman subject to her being pregnant or having just given birth. Legal protection should therefore be put in place from when the woman becomes pregnant until the end of her maternity leave.
Despite the law, the Parliamentary committee heard evidence that discrimination was in fact common. Figures have shown that new mothers forced to leave their jobs has doubled to 54,000 since 2005 while research conducted by MPs found that 11% of mothers believed they have been forced out of their respective jobs due to poor treatment by their employers.
The Parliamentary committee condemned these findings, branding them as "shocking".
These findings have been highlighted by women who have come forward who claim that many other women are wary of speaking out about it in the workplace for the fear of being labelled a ‘trouble-maker’.
One woman known as ‘Rachel’ previously worked in public relations and gave her own account:
"Before I fell pregnant, I had been asking about promotion opportunities, and possibilities were discussed with my manager.
"However, when I became pregnant, these discussions did not seem to progress, despite having the same level of experience and responsibility that other team members had when they received promotions.
"On my return from maternity leave, I raised the issue of promotion again, and was told that if I wanted any hope of promotion, flexible working would make it very difficult.”
Business Minister Margot James gave her opinion by saying:
"There should be zero tolerance of discrimination against pregnant women, or women who have just given birth.
"That's why today we are committing to making sure new and expectant mothers have sufficient protections from redundancy."
“I agree with the Committee that it is very troubling that so many women are treated badly by their employer when they become pregnant. I don’t agree that the current law is inadequate. Under Section 18 of the Equality Act 2010 women are protected from unlawful pregnancy and maternity discrimination from when they become pregnant until the final day of their maternity leave. Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 they can claim automatically for unfair dismissal if dismissed because they are pregnant without needing the usual two years of service to make an unfair dismissal claim. Under the Maternity and Paternity Leave Regulations they have the right to return to the same role they had before they took maternity leave, as far as reasonably possible, and on no less favourable terms. If a redundancy situation occurs whilst they are on maternity leave they have the right to be offered alternative roles ahead of others in the redundancy pool.
“If they are discriminated against after they return from maternity leave because, for example they want to work part-time or flexible hours, or are overlooked for promotion, they potentially have a claim for under the Equality Act for sex discrimination.
“In our experience the problem does not lie with the legislation. It is lack of knowledge of their legal rights, fear of reprisals from unscrupulous employers and a problem with an access to justice due to cuts in legal aid and tribunal fees.”