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The Equality and Human Rights Commission will be undertaking a new comprehensive research project into the scale of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace.
It says anecdotal evidence suggests that some pregnant women experience discrimination while on maternity leave or on their return to work. However, it adds that there is no up-to-date evidence as the most recent data goes back to 2005.
The project will investigate employers’ practices towards employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave, and these employees’ experiences in the workplace to provide evidence on the extent, causes and effects of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. This information will enable the Commission and Government to shape the most appropriate response.
The Commission proposed the project to the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) as part of a package of measures to address Equality and Human Rights, and Secretary of state Maria Miller has confirmed the £1m funding to support this project.
Education for both employers and employees nationally will be key to tackling this issue and the Commission will assess how best to raise awareness of pregnancy and maternity rights.
Mark Hammond, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: ” It is very concerning that in 2013 a number of women are still being disadvantaged in the workplace just because they are pregnant. That would be unlawful discrimination and needs to be tackled. We will look at existing research, gather new evidence and carry out our expert analysis to establish the extent of the problem and advise on how best it can to be addressed.”
Sharon Brogden, founder of the Great British Voice Company, successfully sued for pregnancy discrimination. She told Workingmums.co.uk: “Speaking from experience, I doubt whether any research or investigation into the discrimination of pregnant women in the workplace will make much difference. There have been laws in place for several years. However, it hasn’t stopped employers from dismissing pregnant women. They will tend to give other reasons for the dismissal, stating poor work quality, timekeeping etc. In my case, I took my former employer to an employment tribunal and was awarded compensation for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. Unfortunately, I never saw any of the compensation awarded. Why? It was a small limited company with only five employees, the company were unable to raise the funds and therefore the company was dissolved and started trading again under a different name. With a limited company, it’s not the ‘boss’ who owes the money, but the company itself, as a limited company is regarded as a separate entity, the directors are not held responsible for any of the company’s debts. Would this have been the case if the company was not ‘limited’? Very possibly. If a sole trader or partnership had to raise funds to pay compensation to an ex-employee, it would seem tempting to declare bankruptcy, therefore effectively wiping out all debts prior to the declaration. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stand up for your rights and use an employment tribunal. I’m just saying be very careful. It could end up costing solicitors’ fees and court costs and you may be left seriously out of pocket. It’s probably different with larger companies who are substantial enough to be able to raise the funds to pay any compensation.
“My case was in 2006 and, to this day, I am convinced that all the stress and upheaval experienced due to my dismissal and subsequent tribunal was the main cause of the difficulties that I experienced during the latter stages of my pregnancy and during my labour. I became seriously ill and both my baby and I almost didn’t survive. Unfortunately, I have no medical proof, but I can say with almost 100% certainty that my complications would have been highly unlikely if I hadn’t been dismissed for being pregnant.”