The Women and Equalities Committee has called for UK women to be given more protection at work when they’re pregnant and after they have given birth – here’s a quick guide to make sure you’re treating women fairly in these circumstances…

The Committee reported that 54,000 women were forced to leave their jobs because of concerns about the safety of their child or because of pregnancy discrimination. Examples of pregnancy and maternity discrimination include:

  • Dismissing an employee during maternity leave because her maternity leave cover is ‘better’ than her
  • Not paying certain bonuses due to the employee during maternity leave
  • Refusing a flexible working request on return from maternity leave

Discrimination in the workplace is often unintentional, but even so, this is no defence against a claim of unfavourable treatment – and one such area where this occurs is with pregnancy-related absences.

Dealing with pregnancy-related absences

Women often suffer from sickness during pregnancy, which in turn may lead to their absence from work. Sickness absence policies and procedures are vital in an organisation, in order to maintain good attendance and productivity, and so that employers are always strongly encouraged to deal with all types of sickness absence robustly and appropriately.

Because of this, the employer may look to take action against a pregnant woman who’s often off work due to sickness. To the employer, the absence is the priority – but where absence is linked to the pregnancy, it would be an act of discrimination to discipline the employee for this. Ultimately, this means that employers should discount pregnancy related absences from the total amount of absence.

Similarly, withholding bonuses linked to attendance would also be discriminatory, as would denying promotion opportunities or training.

Employers should not make assumptions about a pregnant employee’s commitment to work because of her pregnancy, and therefore should still make all usual opportunities available to her.  However, where relevant, any pregnancy-related risks should be taken into consideration.