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MPs Seek Greater Protections For Pregnant Women and Mothers in the Workplace

MPs Seek Greater Protections For Pregnant Women and Mothers in the Workplace

Employment discrimination of pregnant women

MPs are urging immediate government action to confront a “shocking and unacceptable” increase in workplace discrimination in the UK against expectant and new mothers over the last decade.

A report by the women and equalities select committee wants put in place protection similar to that in Germany, where pregnant women can only be made redundant in certain circumstances.

Currently, 77% of pregnant women and new mothers experience discrimination at work, compared with 45% 10 years ago, according to research published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Eleven per cent lost their jobs, according to the research.

Maria Miller, the committee’s chair, said employers needed to “modernise their workplace practices to ensure effective support and protection for expectant and new mums”.

Women in zero-hours jobs are particularly vulnerable

The MPs have urged changes to health and safety practices, more robust measures to tackle discriminatory redundancies and greater protection for women with casual, agency and zero-hours jobs, who they said were more likely to report risks to their health and safety, and more likely to leave their employer because of those risks not being resolved.

Such changes needed to be “underpinned by concrete targets and changes to laws and protections to increase compliance by employers to improve women’s lives”, Ms Miller said.

The committee said women were not pursuing legal action to ensure employers complied with existing protections and called for the three-month time limit on taking discrimination cases to a tribunal to be doubled. It also demanded a “substantial reduction” in tribunal fees for such cases.

“Employers should not be able to avoid affording regular, long-term workers the same basic rights as employees because they have a different contract type,” added Ms Miller.

Citizens Advice identifies great increase in maternity discrimination

New mothers face increasing discrimination when they take maternity leave, including being made redundant and switched to zero-hours contracts, according to research by Citizens Advice.

The charity has recorded a near 60% increase in the number of women seeking advice about maternity leave issues this year. Just over 3,300 approached it with such issues in the year to June, compared to 2,099 last year.

Citizens Advice claims the introduction of fees for employment tribunals, through which workers can challenge poor treatment, has combined with the rise of zero-hours contracts, agency work and multiple part-time jobs to make employees more vulnerable to sharp practice on maternity rights.

Managing employees during pregnancy and maternity leave

Employers can minimise discrimination claims and ensure they are adequately supporting pregnant employees or those on maternity leave by ensuring adherence to four important rules.

Staff should be made aware of their rights during pregnancy and understand how to exercise them. Workers may be aware of rights such as maternity leave, but may for example not know they have the right to carry over untaken holiday where their maternity leave spans two leave years. If not already in place, employers should consider a comprehensive maternity and equal opportunities policy and ensure such policies are properly communicated to staff and applied consistently in practice.

Employers need to ensure effective communication with employees before, during and after maternity leave. However, contact during maternity leave must be limited to what is considered ‘reasonable’. If problems arise, employees should be encouraged to address their concerns through an internal grievance procedure in the first instance.

Employers need to understand that employees who have been absent for 26 weeks or less are legally entitled to return to the role they held before their absence, or a suitable alternative role, on no less favourable terms.

Flexible working arrangements are popular among women wishing to strike a balance between work and childcare responsibilities, and employers should know that staff with 26 weeks’ continuous service are entitled to request flexible working for any reason. Such requests must be dealt with in a reasonable manner and employees must be notified of a decision within three months.

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