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Pregnancy and Maternity-Related Discrimination and Disadvantage: Experiences of Mothers

This report was prepared by IFF Research on behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.Pregnancy and maternity is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The legislation prohibits discrimination because of pregnancy and maternity, including treating a woman less favourably because she is breastfeeding. Instances of unlawful discrimination could include a female employee being dismissed or made redundant; refused promotion; denied the right to return to the same job or having some of her responsibilities taken away because of her pregnancy or maternity leave. It could be sex discrimination if a woman was treated less favourably because she is breastfeeding or if she was harassed because she was pregnant, on maternity leave or because of her return from maternity leave.

In addition, Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999 requires that when a woman faces redundancy during her maternity leave, if there is a suitable alternative job it must be offered to her. Failure to do so could be automatic unfair dismissal and also discriminatory practice. There has also been a series of family-friendly legislation over the past decade which has had an impact on workplace management of pregnancy and maternity.

There is a lack of up-to-date evidence on the experiences of pregnant women at work; on maternity leave; and on return from maternity leave. As a result, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) commissioned a programme of research to investigate the prevalence and nature of negative experiences and possible discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace among pregnant women at work and new mothers on their return to work. It also explores employer attitudes, approaches and challenges in managing pregnancy and maternity in the workplace.

The results in this report are based on survey interviews with 3,254 mothers and 60 follow-up in-depth interviews. The research covers the experiences of mothers working while pregnant, on maternity leave and returning to work as the mother of a young baby.

In all cases, results are based on mothers’ perceptions and in some cases, their view of whether their treatment was because of their pregnancy and/or maternity leave. In some cases the survey asked whether mothers felt their treatment was due to their pregnancy and/or maternity leave. However, in other cases the survey captured whether or not a mother had experienced a particular situation (for example, dismissal) following their pregnancy but did not ask whether the mother believed it was because of their pregnancy. This treatment does not necessarily fall under the legal definition of discrimination. Only an employment tribunal can determine whether unlawful discrimination or unfair dismissal has occurred.

As part of this project, a separate strand of research was also undertaken with employers across Great Britain involving 3,034 survey interviews with employers and 49 follow-up interviews. Results from this part of the research can be found in a separate report ‘Pregnancy and Maternity-Related Discrimination and Disadvantage: Experiences of Employers’.