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Discrimination Against Mothers in the Workplace on the Increase

Date: 27/09/2016 | Employment & HR

Recent research carried out on discrimination in the workplace by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and Equality & Human Rights Commission has found that discrimination against pregnant women and mothers is on the increase. 

The research has been considered by the Women & Equalities Committee of the House of Commons.

The research revealed that some 11% of pregnant women or mothers complained of being dismissed, forced out of work due to detrimental treatment or made compulsory redundant when other employees were not.  It is shocking that in this day and age less scrupulous employers may be using the fact of a woman’s pregnancy or motherhood as a reason for creating a redundancy situation, treating them detrimentally or forcing them out of work altogether. 

Despite the advances made in the protection of women’s rights at work discrimination still remains relatively hard to prove. The conduct complained of may be subtle and/or masked by other business reasons. Female employees may notice a change in attitude by their employer/line manager, diversion of work to colleagues, exclusion from meetings, removal of responsibility, for example.

Significantly, pregnant women or women on maternity leave complain of being made redundant when others within the workforce are not. There is at the very least a perception of unfairness in the process.

From an employer’s perspective it is not particularly difficult to “justify” a redundancy for business reasons. Termination of employment for redundancy is, of course, a fair reason for termination. Restructuring or reorganisation is frequently used by employers as a means to achieve greater efficiencies, make economies, reduce workforce numbers and redistribute duties. It may be truly incidental that the casualty in the process is the pregnant woman or woman on maternity leave, but then it may not if the outcome of the research is accepted. 

Add into the mix the difficulties a pregnant woman or mother will have in obtaining access to justice in the form of advice, representation or costs of pursuing an application to an Employment Tribunal nowadays and you can see why there is cause for concern.  Pregnant women and mothers will not only be undergoing the physical and emotional stress of pregnancy and motherhood but also the economic difficulties associated with having a young child and a reduction in income.  The last thing that is needed is the additional cost and trauma of having to fund advice, representation and an Employment Tribunal claim against your former employer in cases which may well be fraught with uncertainty due to the employers hiding behind smokescreens. 

It is hardly surprising therefore that the Women & Equalities Committee of the House of Commons has called for a change in the law to give new and expectant mothers additional protection from redundancy such that they can only be made redundant in certain specified instances.  Furthermore, it has called upon the Government to monitor to what extent there is unmet need amongst women seeking advice on pregnancy and maternity related discrimination.

In all the post-Brexit uncertainty it is to be hoped that the Government will give some clarity and reassurance to new and expectant mothers that not only will their rights as they stand not be eroded but in fact be protected and extended.

The matter in this publication is based on our current understanding of the law.  The information provides only an overview of the law in force at the date hereof and has been produced for general information purposes only. Professional advice should always be sought before taking any action in reliance of the information. Accordingly, Davidson Chalmers LLP does not take any responsibility for losses incurred by any person through acting or failing to act on the basis of anything contained in this publication.

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