So what constitutes pregnancy discrimination in the workplace? If an employer treats a pregnant woman unfairly or unfavourably because of their pregnancy or because of an illness relating to or as a result of her pregnancy this is discrimination according to the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination can also extend to women who are treated unfavourably when on compulsory maternity leave or because she is exercising her right to this leave.

A woman could also be discriminated against if she is not hired for a job because she is pregnant or on maternity leave. Pregnancy or maternity discrimination is determined by assessing whether the employee has been treated unfavourably, rather than less favourably. This removes the need for a comparator. Generally this means that a woman has been demoted, dismissed or denied training or a promotion because she is pregnant or on maternity leave.

One of the most common forms of discrimination of women on maternity leave is when they are overlooked for promotions or training opportunities. If an employee is on maternity leave, they must be offered available training and informed of any promotion opportunities. Another example of this is redundancy as a woman on maternity leave is entitled to any appropriate available vacancy with the employer as a priority over other employees. The new job offer cannot be less favourable than the previous contract and effective immediately.

Protection

When you are pregnant in the workplace you are entitled to a number of rights that did not apply before. These come from a number of UK laws such as the Employment Rights Act 1996, and the Work and Families Act 2006 and also EU law such as the Pregnant Workers Directive, to name a few. Pregnancy and maternity is one of the nine “protected characteristics” covered by the EqA 2010.

Key rights for pregnant employees:

  • Leave for antenatal appointments
  • Healthy and safety protection when pregnant, and breastfeeding
  • The right to return to the same job, and priority for an alternative employment in the case of redundancies
  • Up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave with one year’s statutory maternity leave, regardless of how long you have been with the organisation
  • Statutory maternity pay for up to 39 weeks
  • The right to request flexible working conditions when returning to work
  • Protection from discrimination, dismissal or detriment due to pregnancy or maternity
  • Non employees also have some rights
    • Workers qualify for time of for antenatal appointments after twelve weeks, protection from discrimination and statutory maternity pay
    • Other non-employees, such as self-employed contractors, have protection from discrimination if they fall within the wider definition of employment in the Equality Act 2010 (please contact us for more information on employment status!)

This protection applies from the beginning of the pregnancy through to the end of maternity leave, either statutory or additional leave.