The Women and Equalities Committee has called for UK women to be given more protection at work when they are pregnant and after they have given birth.
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 may be:
• 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 (will not always be but could be).
The Committee set out several recommendations within their report that they urge the Government to consider. Some are outside the realm of employment law but those that will be of interest to employers are:
• Employers should be required to undertake a risk assessment on a woman who is pregnant; has given birth within the last 6 months or is breastfeeding. The reports asks that the Health and Safety Executive reflect this requirement in its guidance by the end of 2016;
• A formal mechanism, by 2017, for an employee to ask their doctor/midwife to confirm that specific risks at work need to be dealt with by the employer;
• The right to paid time off for ante-natal appointments should be extended to ‘workers’ who have served a short qualifying period.
• Bringing the maternity rights of workers more in line with those that employees enjoy.
• Greater protection for pregnant women and women on maternity leave against redundancy.
• Requiring large companies to report on retention rates for women 12 months after returning from maternity leave and 12 months after the lodging of an application for flexible working;
• Extending the three month time limit for making a discrimination claim to employment tribunal to six months;
• Substantially reducing the £1200 fee that currently applies to making a discrimination claim to employment tribunal.
The Government has confirmed that it will carefully consider the recommendations.
Senior Employment Law Consultant Nicola Richardson says: “Pregnancy discrimination is not a new thing but this study shows that the protection of the Equality Act 2010 does not appear to be proactively preventing employers from treating an employee less favourably because of their pregnancy. We need to wait and see whether the Government feels it is necessary to take on the suggestions of the Committee.”