In a recent report the Commons Women and Equalities Committee claim that the number of women forced to leave their job because of pregnancy discrimination, or concerns about the safety of their child, has doubled over the past decade to 54,000.
The report also criticised the cost associated with mounting a discrimination case against an employer, and called for a “substantial” cut to the £1,200 fee of going to an employment tribunal.
Figures suggest more than one in ten pregnant women and new mothers were dismissed, singled out for compulsory redundancy or left their job because of poor treatment in the workplace
Pregnancy is one of the protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010, meaning that it is unlawful to subject a woman to unfavourable treatment because she is pregnant.
This can be a tricky area for employers in practical terms because employees sometimes will not know for sure that an employee is pregnant; there is no requirement on an employee to inform her employer that of her pregnancy until 15 weeks before the baby is due. However, suspicions that the employee is pregnant is enough to be classed as ‘knowledge’ of the pregnancy and so lack of absolute knowledge is not always a defence against any discriminatory treatment.
Discrimination in the workplace is often unintentional but this, again, is not a defence against a claim of unfavourable treatment.
One such area where this occurs is with pregnancy related absences. Women often suffer from sickness during pregnancy which may lead to their absence from work.
Sickness absence policies and procedures are vital in an organisation to maintain good attendance and productivity and so employers are always strongly encouraged to deal with all types of sickness absence robustly. Because of this, the employer may look to take action against a pregnant woman who is often off work due to sickness.
To the employer, the absence is the priority
However, where absence is linked to the pregnancy, it would be an act of discrimination to discipline the employee for this so employers should discount pregnancy related absences from the total amount of absence. Similarly, withholding bonuses linked to attendance would also be discriminatory, as would denying promotion opportunities or training.
Employers should not make assumptions about a pregnant employee’s commitment to work because of her pregnancy and so should still make all usual opportunities available to her, however, should consider the pregnancy related risks to any of these.
Alan Price is the HR director at Peninsula.