Making it easier for mums to take legal action

Labour seems to be proposing to double the time limit on filing a tribunal case against an employer. Why does that matter, particularly for pregnant mums and those on maternity leave?

Gavel with employment written on it, representing employment law


There’s been a lot of talk about childcare at the various party conferences as childcare has moved further up the political agenda, At the Labour party conference this week, a review of early years policy was announced with areas being looked at including more schools-based early years [linked in part to changing demographics and more space opening up in schools, but also to efforts to put early years on a par with school education], fewer restrictions on local authorities when it comes to running childcare and boosting the status and training for early years workers.

There was also talk about changing employment practices, including banning zero hours contracts about which there is divided opinion, with some saying they allow for greater flexibility and others saying that they enable exploitation under the guise of flexibility due to the instability of working schedules.

Another subject of debate is employment law. Anneliese Dodds, the shadow women and equalities secretary, said she backs calls for an extension of the time limit to raise an employment tribunal claim from three to six months, particularly to provide pregnant women more time to seek redress.

It’s definitely something we see as an issue. Discrimination cases against pregnant women are still high and the last thing you want to do when you are approaching birth or are struggling with the early weeks of motherhood is think about taking legal action against your employer. It’s a stressful business. You may need to get witness statements and the like from colleagues, which is no easy thing. Your employer may issue fancy legal letters that are meant to intimidate you. They may go through your emails. The financial cost weighs heavy as does finding the right lawyer.

I’ve certainly been there and I’ve seen others go through it too. It is incredibly stressful and not something that you need when you are preparing to give birth. I still feel angry about it now, almost two decades later. In some cases that stress could result in harmful effects for both mother and baby. It can impact your recovery from birth, your bonding with your child and more. Having just a little more time would make a lot of difference.

Sometimes people suggest that it is too easy to take legal action against employers. That is certainly not my experience. Bad employers tend to hold all the cards, which is not to say that some employees don’t push their luck. Generally, though, it is very stressful and often lonely taking legal action – and even when you win, you often lose, with many leaving their jobs or profession as a result. We need to make it easier, less rushed and less stressful or nothing will change.

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