The economic downturn has been used by some employers as an excuse to discriminate against women who are pregnant or on maternity leave, according to a report by the Working Families charity.
The economic downturn has been used by some employers as an excuse to discriminate against women who are pregnant or on maternity leave, according to a report by the Working Families charity
The charity’s report on calls received from disadvantaged parents and carers to its free helpline in 2009 identifies five key areas of concern:
– discrimination against women who are pregnant or on maternity leave
– forced changes in contracts
– time off for dependants
– health and safety of pregnant women
The report says many of the calls it received related to the economic downturn, such as redundancy concerns. The helpline advised 350 women and 20 men on redundancy issues.
It says some employers seemed to impose changes in contracts to the detriment of working parents and states: “In an effort to cut costs, some employers are requiring parents to change their working patterns with disastrous impacts on family lives.”
It also raises concerns about fathers’ eligibility for paternity leave and pay and the difficulties parents and carers face when they need time off work to care for their children or dependants.
A new theme which emerged in 2009 was the health and safety of pregnant women. The report says: “Employers’ ignorance of their responsibilities to carry out health and safety risk assessments for pregnant women needs to be addressed.”
Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, commented: “The case studies in our report reveal how difficult it is for some of the UK’s most disadvantaged employees to assert their employment rights, and how Working Families’ legal team are helping parents keep their jobs.
“We call on the Government to send a strong message to employers that they will not tolerate poor and discriminatory treatment of pregnant mothers and those on maternity leave. It is also unacceptable that parents are disciplined for taking time off to cope with sick children: more flexible parental leave is clearly needed.
“Our report shows that legislative change is needed to support fathers too. Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees would make it more acceptable for fathers to achieve the balance they need, while changes to paternity rights would increase the precious time fathers can spend with a new baby.
“We also call on employers to consider the impact of imposing changes of contract on parents. Changing hours at work or shift patterns, without agreement, can have a devastating effect on carefully balanced childcare arrangements. A little more consideration to how work is redesigned, in consultation with employees, will help keep parents in work and employers will reap the benefits of a loyal and productive workforce.”