Fifth of women harassed at work over pregnancy or flexible hours

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Government urged to act after research finds nearly 400,000 women have experienced pregnancy discrimination. Photo: Shutterstock

Three-quarters of pregnant women and new mothers experience discrimination at work and one in nine lose their job as a result, government-commissioned research has found.

The report suggests that illegal pregnancy discrimination has risen significantly since 2005, when just 45 percent of women said they had experienced such discrimination.

One in five mothers said they experienced harassment or negative comments in the workplace related to pregnancy or flexible working and one in 10 said they were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments.

The results equated to 390,000 women experiencing discrimination across Britain. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR), which commissioned the report with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, urged the government to take urgent action to address the problem.

The survey of more than 3,000 mothers and 3,000 employers suggested a number of reasons for the escalating problem, including employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 introduced in 2013, fear of negative repercussions at work, lack of information about rights and the stress of making a claim.

While most employers said it was in their interests to support women who are either pregnant or on maternity leave, a significant minority expressed negative views. About a quarter felt pregnancy put an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace and a similar proportion suggested it was reasonable to ask women in job interviews whether they planned to have children.

The minister for women and equalities, Nicky Morgan, and the business secretary, Sajid Javid, said in a joint statement:

“It will take coordinated action from government, the EHRC and business – at all levels and of all sizes as well as stakeholders – to truly tackle pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination in the workplace and stamp it out for good.”

Three-quarters of mothers questioned who were unsuccessful in job interviews felt the employer’s knowledge of their pregnancy had affected their chances. Following from this point, the EHRC are working on stronger steps stronger steps to prevent employers asking in job interviews about a woman’s pregnancy or her intention to have children.

The EHRC also suggest the government should look at lowering the fees for employment tribunals and explore the feasibility of a collective insurance scheme to help small and medium employers provide enhanced pay and cover for maternity leave.

 

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