Pregnant women ‘may be unaware of their rights’

Workingmums legal expert Helen Climance says pregnant women who feel they are being discriminated against have the right to access the notes their interviewers take.

Many pregnant women who fear they have been discriminated against by an employer are unaware of their rights, says a leading employment lawyer.

Helen Climance, part of a team of employment law specialists at Lemon&Co Solicitors, a leading law practice based in Swindon, says many women do not know, for example, that they have a right to ask for information, including copies of the notes taken by interviewers if they suspect that they might not have got a job because they are women.

Her comments come after a survey by the Employment Law Advisory Services last week showed that 52% of employers admit to considering whether a woman of child-bearing age will become pregnant before hiring them.

“I think people do have an idea that some employers feel that way, but seeing the statistics is quite shocking,” says Climance, who provides expert advice for WorkingMums.co.uk on employment rights. She thinks the numbers may reflect growing resentment among some employers, particularly smaller ones, about changes to maternity legislation. For instance, the period of time a woman needs to work before she qualifies for additional leave has been removed and the length of time statutory maternity pay is paid has increased from six to nine months. “It may be a factor,” she says.

Performance issues

Lemon & Co sees a steady flow of cases where women claim they have been discriminated against because they are pregnant. “The typical case is that they announce they are pregnant and hey presto suddenly there are performance issues and they are dismissed. That happens quite a lot,” she says. Other cases involve women who are pregnant being selected for redundancy.

Hard to prove

But what of the women who don’t even get hired because they are pregnant or deemed at risk of getting pregnant? “These cases can be very hard to prove,” says Climance, admitting that she does not see a lot of them, perhaps because women think there is nothing much they can do in such circumstances. However, she says there is a procedure whereby women can ask for data made during the recruitment process. “A lot of people do not know this right exists,” she adds. If you suspect you have not got a job due to sex discrimination you can ask to see the notes taken during the interview process as well as the job applications of other candidates.

“A lot of things can come up from these as employers are not necessarily very careful,” says Climance. Climance says employers need to recognise that their attitudes on pregnancy may be discriminatory. Male employees, for example, could be off work for several months for illness. “Many companies have contractual sick pay schemes, but most don’t have contractual maternity schemes. They just offer the bare minimum,” she says.

Discrimination

She adds that in a culture which discriminates against women, female employees need to be very clear about their rights. For instance, they don’t have to tell a prospective employer they are pregnant when attending an interview and they should not be asked about whether they plan to have a child at interview – if they do and the company doesn’t hire the woman they are leaving themselves open to tribunal claims. “If people are asking these sorts of questions at interview,” says Climance, “this could infer discrimination.”





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