Maternity rights: how can employers tackle discrimination?

Maternity rights: how can employers tackle discrimination?

With Sports Direct’s working practices still making headlines, and the recent publishing of the Citizens Advice and select committee reports, workplace discrimination across the UK continues to come under increasing scrutiny.

In its recent report, Citizens Advice revealed a 58% increase in the number of face-to-face enquiries about maternity leave issues over the past two years.

Its report also showed a 100% increase in online visits to the Citizens Advice pregnancy discrimination advice pages.

A report by the women and equalities select committee, published on 31st August, is calling for better job protection for expectant and new mothers. MPs are urging the government to tackle the “shocking and unacceptable” rise in workplace discrimination in the UK over the past decade.

The report revealed that 25% of women had left their jobs because concerns over health and safety during pregnancy and maternity leave were not being met.

What are maternity rights?

Maternity rights protect women when they have a child, and help their children get a better start in life.

Many of these rights are well known. Some of them include:

  • The right to time off to receive antenatal care
  • The right to a period of maternity leave
  • The right to statutory maternity pay
  • Protection from having their hours changed
  • Protection from having their responsibility reduced
  • Protection from dismissal, discrimination or less favourable treatment on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity absence before and after their leave

What is classed as discrimination?

The most common problem stems from redundancy situations.

Employers being unaware of the fact that if a pregnant employee is made redundant, they must be offered (not just permitted to apply) any other suitable alternative role. Even if there is a potentially better candidate.

In its report, Citizens Advice reported four common areas where employees report problems:

  1. Being made redundant
  2. Having hours reduced
  3. Having roles changed upon return to work
  4. Lacking health and safety protections

The report also makes several recommendations to tackle discrimination. 

Some of the suggestions are:

  • The right to paid time off for antenatal appointments should be extended to workers. Currently this is a right only open to employees.
  • Increase protection from redundancy so new and expectant mothers can be made redundant only in specified circumstances. This would be a similar approach to that adopted in Germany.
  • Review and potentially reduce the three-month time limit for bringing a tribunal claim in maternity and pregnancy discrimination cases as due to circumstances – this is often missed. As well a review and potential reduction of Tribunal fees for such claims.

How employers can tackle discrimination

To help prevent unfair treatment and inadvertent discrimination, employers need to:

  • Be aware of, and understand, their legal obligations
  • Get professional legal advice
  • Feed this advice down to managers who make decisions

You can read Citizen’s Advice full report here.

Sources: Citizens Advice, The Guardian

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