U.K.: Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Common, Survey Finds

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By Rick Vollmar

April 14—Almost half (45 percent) of the 440,000 pregnant women in the U.K. in 2015 experienced some form of discrimination at work “simply for being pregnant or taking maternity leave,” according to a survey commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The survey of 3,254 mothers and 3,034 employers was to “investigate the prevalence and nature of pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace.” The results, released March 22, were not encouraging.

Of mothers surveyed:

  • 77 percent reported negative and perhaps discriminatory treatment during pregnancy, maternity leave and their return to work from maternity leave;
  • 20 percent reported negative comments or outright harassment from their colleagues or employer related to pregnancy or flexible working arrangements;
  • 10 percent said they were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments; and
  • 9 percent felt so badly treated they believed they had no choice but to leave their jobs.

    Even when an employer offers pregnant employees some assistance, taking advantage of the offer can have negative consequences. About two-thirds of mothers surveyed said they had requested a flexible working arrangement, and of these three-quarters reported their request was approved. Half of the employees who worked a flexible schedule, however, reported it resulted in negative employment consequences for them.

    Oddly given the treatment reported by women who had experienced pregnancy while working, 84 percent of employers said they believed it in their best interests to support pregnant employees and those on maternity leave, among other reasons because it increased staff retention (reported by 58 percent of responding employers) or enhanced employee morale (20 percent). Slightly over a quarter of responding employers, however, felt that pregnancy resulted in unreasonable workplace costs.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

    For More Information

    The BIS/EHRC report is available here.

    For more information on British HR law and regulation, see the U.K. primer.

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