19 February 2018

Employers have been challenged to eliminate outdated attitudes towards pregnancy and maternity at work.

Describing the attitudes of many managers as being rooted in the dark ages, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says that too many of them fail to understand or respect employment law as it relates to pregnant women and new mothers.

A survey of more than 1100 senior decision-makers found that:

  • 36% of those in the private sector think it is reasonable to ask women during the recruitment process about their plans to have children

  • 59% of employers believe that a woman should have to disclose whether she is pregnant

  • 46% think it is reasonable to ask women if they have young children.

The findings reveal, the EHRC argues, that the attitudes of many businesses are decades behind the law.

It is clear, EHRC Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said, that many employers need more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.

Discrimination is not just an issue at the recruitment stage as the survey also found evidence of maternity discrimination in the workplace.

The full survey results can be found at http://bit.ly/2GaKMlr.

Advice for employers

It is not the case that pregnant women are unsackable but the reason for their dismissal cannot be the pregnancy or anything connected to it, such as pregnancy related absence. The following should also be borne in mind.

  • Employers should not ask a woman in an interview if she plans on starting a family because it suggests to her that they are going to use that information when deciding who should get the job. If she is then unsuccessful, she will be able to claim that it was because of the responses she gave to that question. The employer must then prove that this was not the case.

  • A woman does not have to tell the prospective employer that she is pregnant at interview, If she is, and the employer finds out after she starts work then it is illegal to sack her for either the "lie" or the pregnancy. That would be a discriminatory dismissal.

  • When Employment Tribunal fees were removed, pregnancy discrimination claims were specifically highlighted as "one to watch" for growth. Employers should expect more such claims.