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pregnancy & maternity discrimination at work frequently asked questions

Maternity discrimination occurs if you are treated unfavourably because you are exercising or seeking to exercise, or have exercised or sought to exercise the right to maternity leave.
There is no qualifying period in order to bring a claim for pregnancy and/or maternity discrimination, so you have automatic protection from day one of your employment; whether you’re a full-time employee, an agency worker or a freelancer. The protection against pregnancy and maternity discrimination lasts for a specific period. It starts when you become pregnant and ends when your maternity leave finishes. This is known as the ‘protected period’. An employee on maternity leave is protected by pregnancy and maternity discrimination law until the end of their leave. Any unlawful discrimination suffered after that would still be classed as illegal, but this would be sex discrimination.
See below for some common examples of pregnancy discrimination at work:
  • Refusing to promote an employee because they are pregnant;
  • Not offering you the same training or promotion opportunities;
  • Treating you unfavourably because you have a pregnancy-related sickness;
  • Dismissing an employee due to pregnancy;
  • Refusing to provide workplace adjustments and accommodation;
  • Bullying or harassing an employee for being pregnant;
  • Forcing an employee to take unwanted leave, or making changes to their role due to pregnancy;
  • Mistreating an employee for raising a complaint about pregnancy discrimination;
  • Making a person’s role redundant while they are on maternity leave without there being a genuine redundancy situation;
  • Changing a person’s role, and expecting them to re-apply for it when they return from maternity leave (this may also include an employer suggesting to the person that they don’t apply);
  • Cutting someone’s hourly rate or yearly salary while they are on maternity leave;
  • Refusing employment benefits, such as childcare vouchers or profit share bonus to somebody on maternity leave;
  • Bullying/harassment.
It is the responsibility of an employer to provide a suitable working environment for pregnant employees. If they don’t, this could be grounds for a pregnancy discrimination claim. Adjustments could include bringing in adjustable desks, different chairs, providing seating if the job requires employees to stand, and also being flexible with schedules. A pregnant employee might suffer from morning sickness, so may ask for a later working schedule.
If you feel as though you’re suffering discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity, it’s important to take the right steps. In the first instance, you may wish to try resolving the issue informally, especially if you want to keep working with your employer. However, if this doesn’t work, there are other options available which include the following:
  • Make a formal complaint. This is called ‘raising a grievance’.
  • Negotiate with your employer to reach an agreement. This is called ‘settling’.
  • Take legal action at an Employment Tribunal.
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