Maternity Wrongs and Maternity Rights

20th February 2018 Employment

Today the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published some pretty damaging research results about attitudes towards pregnant colleagues and potential new mums at the recruitment stage and in the workplace. The research can be used by all employers to review their current policies and procedures on recruitment and maternity and ensure they are treating pregnant employees or potential new mums fairly.

The survey of 1,106 senior decision makers in business across the UK and business size shows, according to the EHRC, 'British employers are 'living in the dark ages' and have worrying attitudes towards unlawful behaviour when it comes to recruiting women'.

The statistics unfortunately do not make for comfortable reading:

  • 46% of private sectors employers thought it was reasonable to ask women if they have young children during the recruitment process
  • 44% believe that women should work for an organisation for at least a year before deciding to have children
  • About one third believe that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are "generally less interested in career progression"
  • 41% of employers surveyed agreed that pregnancy in the workplace puts "an unnecessary cost burden" on the workplace
  • 51% agree there is sometimes resentment towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave
  • 40% of employers claim to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace 'take advantage' of their pregnancy.

Smaller employers, with less than 250 employees were the worst offenders, showing the most negative attitudes to pregnancy and maternity in the survey.

It is now 3 years since the EHRC released its previous findings that around 54,000 new mums lose their jobs across the UK every year, that one in five new mums experienced harassment or negative comments from their colleagues, employer or manager when pregnant or returning from maternity leave, and one in 10 said they were treated worse by their employer when they returned to work after having a baby, and 7% revealed they were put under pressure to hand in their notice.

The law is clear and as a helpful reminder to all employers, it is unlawful to (including at the recruitment stage):

  1. treat a woman less favourably because of her pregnancy, due to her being on maternity leave or because she are breastfeeding;
  2. Impose practices or codes which has the effect of disadvantaging women who are pregnant, on maternity leave or are breastfeeding;
  3. allow unwanted conduct related to a person's pregnancy, maternity leave, or breastfeeding so as to cause a distressing, humiliating or offensive environment for that person,
  4. punish, by causing them detriment, anyone who complains or who an employer thinks might complain about breaches of their legal rights.

For many employers, especially those who recognise the advantages to them of a diverse, committed and loyal workforce, and retention of skills and expertise of women who may also be of child bearing age, the legal landscape poses no difficulty.

The advantages of embracing flexible working practices and staff retention, of creating a positive and progressive workforce, of whatever size, are well researched and documented, and happily there are many business leaders who have long recognised those advantages, and who continue to reap the benefits.

However it is fair to say more is needed by way of a cultural shift in this area particularly in certain mainly male dominated sectors. One would hope that those businesses who have recognised that the reality that is 'women having babies' is here to stay and that their place within the workforce is just as valuable to the business as their male counterparts, will lead the way, and encourage other, more reluctant employers to explore the new world of equality and diversity.

To discuss any element of this article with myself or the team please do not hesitate to get in contact. With thanks to Sarah Evans and Michael Legge who contributed to this blog.

 

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