31 July 2015: Maternity Leave & Discrimination:
As reported in the press last week, research based on interviews with some 3000 employers and mothers has found that:
- 10% of women were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments during pregnancy.
It’s worth noting that employers must give pregnant employees time off for antenatal care and pay their normal rate for this time off. (The father or pregnant woman’s partner has the right to unpaid time off work to go to 2 antenatal appointments.) However it may be reasonable for the employer to ask employees to book appointments at times which minimise disruption to the working day, if possible.
- 20% of women experienced harassment or negative comments from their colleagues, employer or manager when pregnant or when returning from maternity leave.
Any such comments should obviously be avoided and could give rise to claims of unlawful discrimination / harassment or constructive dismissal.
On return from maternity leave the system of working may have changed or issues with performance in the role may have altered during maternity leave. It may be reasonable to raise such concerns with the employee if handled appropriately.
- 7% of women said that they were put under pressure to hand in their notice when pregnant.
Again this could give rise to claims of constructive dismissal or unlawful discrimination.
- 11% of mothers reported being dismissed, made redundant (where other colleagues were not) or forced to leave. However the report also says that almost four in five employers (78%) agreed that mothers returning to work from maternity leave are just as committed to work as other members of the team.
Redundancies during or following maternity leave should also be handled carefully. If employers are planning to make redundancies, they should ensure that the selection criteria used are objective, fair and non-discriminatory. If there are other suitable alternative jobs, Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations (1999) gives employees who are made redundant during maternity leave the right to be offered one of these jobs before any other employee.
- 25% of employers feel it should be reasonable to ask women about their plans to have a child and 70% feel that women should declare at interview if they are pregnant.
However it is difficult to understand what lawful use an employer could do with the answers to any such questions, and they should avoid asking them.