Laws Protecting Pregnant Employees

December 14, 2018 Legal

According to a report published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, many employers in the UK have upsetting attitudes towards unlawful behaviour when it comes to handling pregnancy in the workplace. The data revealed that one in nine female employees (11 percent) who were pregnant were either made compulsorily redundant, were dismissed or subjected to pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

These numbers raise significant concerns about gender equality and workplace culture, which is only aggravated by the reports published to date on gender pay gap in the UK. As of February 2018, more than 80 percent of employers in the UK reported having a gender pay gap. Also, a recent ruling given by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Porras Guisado v Bankia SA that it is legally possible, in certain circumstances, to dismiss pregnant workers on the grounds of collective redundancy, or any other reason unrelated to the individual, which makes the situation even bleaker for pregnant female professionals.

What is Pregnancy Discrimination?

It is important to know that the Equality Act 2010 extends protection over all employees and workers against unfair treatment and discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy or childbirth. The Act describes pregnancy discrimination as any instance of unfavourable treatment or dismissal from work because you have taken maternity leave, or put any of your maternity rights to use at work. Moreover, you have the same maternity rights whether you are working full-time or part-time. Same is true for fixed-term workers, apprentices, and those working on temporary work contracts.

As per the Equality Act, if a pregnant female employee has been treated unfavourably, they don’t need to compare their situation to someone else’s – for example a male colleague or a non-pregnant peer.

When Are You Protected Against Pregnancy Discrimination?

Your employer mustn’t discriminate against you because you’re pregnant or are unable to work due to a pregnancy-related sickness. Furthermore, it is also unlawful to discriminate against any female employees, after they have given birth, for any one of the following reasons:

  • They are on maternity leave;
  • they are returning to work after maternity leave;
  • they have asked their employer to take maternity leave

How Long are You Protected Against Pregnancy Discrimination?

In the UK, the protection against pregnancy discrimination at the workplace lasts for a specific period, known as the protected period. This period begins once you become pregnant. Furthermore, if you have the right to take maternity leave, the protected period would terminate when your maternity leave ends, or you return to work, whichever is earlier.

In case, you are not eligible to take maternity leave; the protected period would end two weeks after the birth of your child. That said, if you are treated discriminately outside the protected period because of your pregnancy or maternity leave, you are still protected against unfavourable treatment because of your gender.

What Constitutes as Unfavourable Treatment?

Various scenarios can constitute as unfavourable treatment, in which you can complain about pregnancy discrimination. These include instances when:

  • You are suspended from work because of health and safety reasons and are denied complete pay;
  • You are fired from work because your employer admits that they pay you statutory maternity pay;
  • You cannot attend a disciplinary hearing with your management because of a pregnancy-related condition, and your employer refuses to reschedule the meeting;
  • You are reprimanded for any performance issues due to a pregnancy-related condition;
  • Your employer fails to undertake a health and safety risk assessment, thus forcing you to resign;
  • You are demoted, dismissed or stopped from having training or promotion opportunities due to your pregnancy;
  • Your employer doesn’t agree on giving you time off for antenatal care or refuses to pay regular wages for the time when you attend antenatal appointments;
  • You are made redundant while being on maternity leave, without any genuine redundancy situation;
  • You are disqualified for a job opportunity after the employer learns about your pregnancy

Summary

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 protects you against all forms of pregnancy and maternity discrimination at your workplace. In case you are subjected to unfavourable treatment at work, the law entitles you to make a formal complaint against pregnancy discrimination at an employment tribunal.  You can also seek conciliation from ACAS or discuss your situation with an experienced employment law solicitor, who would help you choose the appropriate recourse for your grievance.