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Discrimination against pregnant women and mothers increases massively

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Discrimination against pregnant women and mothers increases massively

According to a recent report, numbers of women leaving their jobs have almost doubled to 54,000 since 2005.

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee recently published a report on the “shocking” increase in the number of pregnant women and mothers reporting discrimination and poor treatment at work which led to them leaving their jobs.

According to the report, numbers have almost doubled to 54,000 since 2005.  Although it is illegal discrimination to discriminate against a woman on the grounds of her pregnancy or maternity, this report suggests that this provides little protection to the women who have had to give up work.

The report makes the point that although it is illegal to discriminate against women on these grounds an employer could find other reasons for making her redundant.  MPs are suggesting that it should be virtually impossible to dismiss a pregnant woman until four months following childbirth.

Tribunal fees for discrimination cases to be reviewed

MPs also call for the Tribunal fees for the discrimination cases to be reviewed.  Currently a pregnant woman/new mother who thought that she had been unfairly selected for redundancy because of her pregnancy/maternity would have to pay an issue fee of £250 to commence proceedings at an Employment Tribunal. She would then have to pay a further £950 for the final hearing fee if she wanted the tribunal to hear her case and make a decision on it.  That excludes the fees she would have to incur in terms of instructing her own solicitors unless of course her advisers were acting on a no win no fee basis or, she had legal expenses insurance.

It would be misleading to blame the increase in these figures purely upon Employment Tribunal fees as they have only been in place since 2014.  This report suggests that numbers of women experiencing discrimination or poor treatment have doubled since 2005, at which point it was free to issue discrimination claims at the Tribunal.

Discrimination law is flawed?

What this report does highlight is that the substantive law on discrimination itself is flawed.  The number of claims that make their way to final hearing at an Employment Tribunal on pregnancy/maternity discrimination is very small. One of the reasons for this could be the difficulty faced by an employee in proving that the motivating factor behind their dismissal was discrimination because of a pregnancy or maternity.

The other main reasons cited before Tribunal fees were introduced was that potentially successful claims would be settled at an early stage by an employer, and therefore they would never make it to a final hearing at Tribunal.  In other words, the only cases that ever did make it all the way to the end were those that were finely balanced or speculative.

Protection vs flexibility

The MPs’ suggestion that it should become virtually impossible to sack a pregnant woman/new mother from the beginning of her pregnancy until four months post childbirth has some merit, but it also risks making employers uncompetitive and inflexible.  Modern workforces need to be flexible and responsive to not only the needs of their customers but their staff as well.  Consequently, additional regulation runs the risk of creating new and unforeseen problems when what is needed is a much more encouraging climate for pregnant women and mothers.

The way forward is, effectively, for a cultural rather than a legal change. Given the poor take up of shared parental leave - one of the aims of which was to get fathers to share the burden of childcare with mothers more readily - there is little chance of that occurring in the near future.

We can help with advice on discrimination claims and diversity policies.  Please call Michael Scutt or Nicola Shepherd on 01707 329333 or click here to find out more.

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