The joys of motherhood are tremendous. If you’re pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, there’s so much to look forward to. Of course, waking up at three in the morning probably isn’t one of them.

Your job shouldn’t add to the list of stressors you’re about to experience.

Unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is a problem.

According to this report, one in nine mothers (11%) reported they were either dismissed or made redundant. Some were even treated so poorly that they felt the need to leave their jobs.

Meanwhile, as many as 100,000 mothers a year experience harassment or negative comments about their pregnancy from employers and/or colleagues.

Understanding pregnancy discrimination can help you avoid these instances.

Let us help. Keep reading to learn the realities of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

What is Pregnancy Discrimination?

According to a survey, 51% of employers recognise there’s sometimes resentment towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave.

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace doesn’t solely impact women who are currently pregnant. It also impacts currently, formerly, and potentially pregnant women.

Companies aren’t supposed to discriminate against women on the basis that they are pregnant. This covers any aspect of their employment, including:

  • Pay
  • Job assignments
  • Promotions
  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Layoffs
  • Fringe benefits (maternity leave and health insurance)

If you experience discrimination during or after your pregnancy, make a note of the incident.

The Fear

So why does pregnancy discrimination occur in the workplace at all?

Most employers, especially small business owners, are concerned by the inconvenience.

Employers can move beyond this mindset by considering pregnancy as a normal condition of employment. Thinking of pregnancy in line with illnesses, injuries, and family obligations can help employers avoid discrimination.

By shifting this mindset, employers can retain employees long term. Treating employees well and with respect can significantly increase employee loyalty and performance.

Know Your Rights

As a pregnant employee, you have four main rights:

  • Paid time off for antenatal care
  • Maternity leave
  • Maternity pay or allowance
  • Protection against discrimination or dismissal

Antenatal care also includes parenting classes. Your employer can’t change the terms and conditions of your employment without your agreement. If they do, they’re in breach of contract.

However, you must tell your employer about the pregnancy at least 15 weeks before your baby is due. Tell your employer about your pregnancy as soon as possible. You cannot take time off work for antenatal appointments unless your employer is aware of the pregnancy.

After you inform your employer, they should assess any possible risks to you or your baby. You’re at risk if you’re:

  • Working long hours
  • Lifting or carrying heavy items
  • Standing for long periods of time
  • Exposed to toxic substances

If your employer can’t remove you from these risks, they should offer alternative work. They can also suspend you on full pay.

Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination

Here are four examples of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. If you experience any of these instances, make a note of it:

1. Not Hiring a Pregnant Woman

It’s illegal for an employer to decide not to hire you because you’re pregnant. An employer shouldn’t turn away qualified candidates because they believe a pregnancy could interrupt workflow.

They also can’t make assumptions about how you’ll behave during or after childbirth.

2. Firing a Pregnant Employee

It’s also unfair to fire an employee upon learning that they’re pregnant.

It’s likely the employer will either think you’re no longer able to complete the key parts of your job or they’re concerned about your safety. Either way, firing an employee because they’re pregnant is illegal.

3. Reducing Maternity Leave

Remember, you have a right to maternity leave.

Your employer is required to provide pregnancy-related medical leave. If you experience physical limitations caused by your pregnancy, you should receive the time off.

These are the same rights an employer would extend to any another employee for temporary disability leave or sick leave.

4. Harassment Over Pumping Breast Milk

Employers are legally required to provide a space for mums to breastfeed.

However, your employer is not required to give you breastfeeding breaks at work. Under discrimination law, they are required to make sure you don’t feel unfairly treated because you’re breastfeeding.

Your employer must meet their obligations to employees who breastfeed under health and safety law, flexible working law and discrimination law. This means your employer should make sure a mum who is breastfeeding does not feel unfairly treated.

The Equality Act protects women from discrimination related to their maternity or pregnancy. Under the Equality Act, discrimination includes treatment that negatively impacts the employee.

In October 2019, the Association of Women Barristers published its report on discrimination experienced by women at the English Bar. Their report ‘Moving Towards a Zero-Tolerance Attitude to Harassment and Bullying at The Bar’ found that female pupil barristers face particular difficulties if they are pregnant or give birth during pupillage. They can be looked upon with disapproval by other members of Chambers and by clerks. It was also very difficult for pupil barristers who were breast feeding to manage a work schedule that required them to cover hearings at short notice, pick up last minute ‘returns’ or travel long distances to hearings.

How to Avoid Pregnancy Discrimination

Make sure to remain upfront with your supervisors. Let them know what you need throughout your pregnancy. At the same time, it’s important to understand their expectations.

Come up with a plan together. With a proactive approach, you can avoid potential issues and pregnancy discrimination down the road.

For example, determine who will cover your work during your maternity leave.

Remain vigilant about comments you hear at work about your pregnancy. Make a note of any changes in behaviour that may indicate that your supervisor is acting unfairly towards you. When you start noticing these warning signs, keep a record.

Note any incidents or remarks. Keeping a record will help you cover your bases.

You can also consider comparing how you’re treated to how other employees with temporary impairments are treated.

If you feel an employer has discriminated against you based on your pregnancy or maternity, you can take bring a claim of discrimination against your employer at an Employment Tribunal. This is where your notes come into play.

You can:

  • Make an informal complaint by talking or writing to your employer
  • Make a formal complaint to your employer
  • Negotiate with your employer to reach an agreement
  • Use a trained mediator to help you reach an agreement
  • Take legal action

If you don’t think you can resolve the problem with your employer, you can also leave your job and file a claim for constructive dismissal.

The Realities of Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

Don’t let discrimination in the workplace ruin the joys of motherhood. Now that you’re aware of the realities of pregnancy discrimination, you can make a plan if an incident does occur.

Looking to make a career change after experiencing workplace discrimination? Book a consultation with us today.