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Research suggests that 54,000 women lose their jobs each year due to maternity discrimination
Recent research conducted by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has suggested that women are now more likely to face discrimination on their return from maternity leave when compared to a decade ago. The survey of more than 3,200 women found that 1 in 9 women had, due to their pregnancy, been dismissed or made redundant, or treated poorly resulting in their resignation. This means that on average, when applied to the general population, 54,000 new mothers lose their jobs in the UK every year due to discrimination. This is twice the amount identified in similar research carried out in 2005.
In summary, the report also revealed that, when returning from maternity leave:
- 10% of women reported being treated unfairly
- 1 in 5 new mothers experienced harassment or negative comments from either colleagues or their employer
- 7% of women felt under pressure to hand in their notice
- 1 in 20 women reported receiving a cut in pay or bonus
- Around 50% of new mothers given the chance to work flexibly felt their opportunities were reduced and their opinions were less valued.
The report also interviewed a proportion of employers. The results showed that most employers actually supported women both during and after their pregnancies. Two thirds stated that they did not think pregnancy put an unreasonable burden on the workplace, while 4 out of 5 employers believed that both pregnant women and new mothers were just as committed to their jobs as their colleagues.
The Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 (“Act”) prevents women from being discriminated against by reason of their pregnancy or maternity leave. ‘Pregnancy and maternity leave’ is one the nine protected characteristics under the Act, which took effect in 2010. This means that women cannot be treated unfavourably, or put to a detriment, due to being pregnant or exercising their right to maternity leave. However, the research seems to suggest that employers are not adhering to this legislation.
Rosalind Bragg, director of Maternity Action, said that “David Cameron – despite promising to make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe – had, instead, overseen a significant deterioration in the situation of mothers in the workplace”.
In her opinion, “the Government needs to move beyond family-friendly rhetoric to delivering practical solutions to this widespread and growing problem.”
Following the report, many commentators have called for a specialist advice and support service to be available for new mothers, with the suggestion that tribunal fees should be cut for women in these cases.