The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has today called on the UK Government to take urgent action, after new research reveals that three in four pregnant women are subjected to potential discrimination at work each year.
The damning new research, which investigates the experiences of pregnant women in the workplace, found that 77 percent have experienced potentially discriminatory or negative employer attitudes.
Despite the worrying statistics, only 28 percent of pregnant women feel confident enough to raise the issue of discrimination with employers, and only 1 percent have pursued grievances to the employment tribunal.
According to the research, based on a survey of 3,000 women and 3,000 employers, financial costs and the fear of repercussions are deterring women from pursuing discrimination cases against employers at the employment tribunal.
In 2013, the coalition government introduced employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200, which have resulted in the number of pregnancy cases heard by tribunals falling by half (50 percent). Meanwhile, the number of sex discrimination cases have fallen by 76 percent.
The EHRC has urged the government to “make changes to the employment tribunal fee system to ensure that fees are not a barrier to accessing justice for pregnant women and new mothers”.
Government ministers should also “consider increasing from three to six months the time limit for a woman to bring an employment tribunal case involving pregnancy and maternity discrimination”.
The research also reveals that 70% of employers believe women should disclose their pregnancy when applying for jobs, and one in four thought it was acceptable to question women about their plans to have children.
More than three in four women (77 percent) say informing potential employers of their pregnancy has a negative impact on job prospects. The EHRC says the government should “take more effective steps to prevent employers asking during the recruitment process about a woman’s pregnancy or her intention to have children”.
Caroline Waters, Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “We simply cannot ignore the true scale of the hidden discrimination that working mothers face.
“This is unacceptable in modern Britain, and urgent action is needed to ensure women are able to challenge discrimination and unfairness. This is why we are calling on Government to look at the barriers working pregnant women and mothers face in accessing justice.”
“We want to make workplaces fairer for everyone and get rid of outdated practices like asking women during job interviews whether they intend to have children.
“For businesses to thrive, they need to harness the talents, skills and experience of all employees. We are calling on employers, regulatory bodies and the voluntary sector to make vital changes needed to improve the lived experiences of British workplaces so they are the best they can be for everyone.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s disgraceful that tens of thousands of women are forced from their job each year due to pregnancy discrimination and that most struggle to enforce their rights.
“Today’s report must lead to change. Women who have lost their jobs should not have to pay £1,200 to take a case to an employment tribunal.
“The government should also recognise the vital role unions play in combatting pregnancy discrimination. This report shows that employers who work closely with trade unions have greater awareness of pregnant women’s rights and better policies to support them.
“I would urge every working woman to join a union to make sure they are represented and their voice is heard.”
Women and Equalities Committee Chair Maria Miller said: “This report provides hard evidence that there is widespread and worrying discrimination against women during pregnancy and when they return to work from maternity leave.
“This is despite the legal protections that have been in place for the past 30 years.
“My Committee is very concerned by these findings and is launching an inquiry to follow up on the report and recommendations.”