Rise in maternity discrimination prompts Committee action

05 September 2016

The Women and Equalities Committee has called for UK women to have protections similar to those in Germany after a ‘shocking' increase in workplace pregnancy discrimination over the past decade.

MPs have demanded urgent action, calling on the government to publish an ambitious, detailed plan within the next two years or risk a further rise in pregnant women and mothers being forced out of their work.

Recommendations include

  • paid time off for antenatal appointments is extended to all workers after a short qualifying period
  • changes to health and safety practices
  • preventing discriminatory redundancies
  • an increase in protection for casual, agency and zero-hours workers.

Sharp practice at work: maternity rights

Over the past 2 years Citizens Advice has seen a 58% increase in the number face to face enquiries about maternity leave problems. This new analysis looks at problems women have with maternity leave, investigating some of the most common issues that clients go to Citizens Advice about.

Last year Citizens Advice provided face to face support to 10,000 people with employment issues and 2,000 discrimination cases relating to pregnancy and maternity. The UK has strong legal protections to help parents, but Citizens Advice still see sharp practice when practice is not in line with the law.

What is sharp practice?

Sharp practice occurs when people are treated unfairly at work. It can include cases where existing legal protections are disregarded or not understood, as well as cases where treatment is potentially legal but not in the spirit of the law.

In this report, Citizens Advice highlight areas where existing protections are not being enforced. Sharp practice can occur if a worker lacks an awareness of their rights (or the ability to enforce them) or because of the attitudes held by employers, line managers or colleagues. 

Why is this an issue now?

Around 700,000 women give birth each year in the UK. Despite their legal protections outlined above, research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) shows that three in four mothers (77%) have faced a negative or possibly discriminatory experience directly before, during or after maternity leave.

The four most common areas where Citizens Advice staff have reported problems in the past 18 months are:

  • being made redundant
  • having hours reduced
  • having roles changed upon return to work
  • lacking health and safety protections.