Pregnant women face work discrimination, report claims

More than seven in ten pregnant women are “suffering in silence” over unfair treatment at work, a report by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has claimed.

One million pregnant women are likely to experience discrimination at work over the next five years, unless the situation is changed, the EOC warned.

According to the report, women sacked for being pregnant are losing out on £12 mllion in statutory maternity pay every year. However, the EOC found that the cost of replacing those women was even higher at £126 million every year.

The EOC also said that those who had been unfairly treated were less likely to return to their old jobs, which caused “long-term damage” to Britain’s economic productivity.

The EOC is calling for the government to support employers and ensure fair treatment for pregnant women. The report made three key recommendations: the provision of a written statement of maternity rights and responsibilities for every woman after her first antenatal visit, including a tear-off slip to give to her employer; employers to be given the right to ask women to give an indication of their return from maternity leave, if possible; and greater financial support for businesses, particularly ‘micro businesses’, which had less than 10 employees.

Commenting on the report, Jenny Watson, Acting Chair of the EOC, said: “It is shocking that 1 million over the next 5 years could find themselves sacked, demoted, bullied or isolated at work simply for having a baby. Pregnancy discrimination has a huge impact on their lives, but the harm it does to our economy affects us all.

“It’s time for honesty about the scale of the problem. Employers – particularly small businesses – need more help in managing pregnancy at work if they are to reap the benefits of retaining pregnant staff.

“Our simple, practical, recommendations should enable both pregnant women and their employers to be more confident in negotiating maternity leave and the return to work.”

Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson welcomed the report and said that it had some “valuable suggestions”. He said that they would be considered alongside the responses to the Work and Families consultation.

Stephen Alambritis, Head of Parliamentary Affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), welcomed the report’s “realistic approach” in tackling the problems smaller firms had in dealing with pregnancy. He said: “The proposal to allow employers to ask the question about a return date will give firms the much needed certainty they desire in running the business. Of equal importance is the recommendation to government for financial support for micro employers to cover such items as recruitment costs.”


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