There is new concern about a rise in maternity discrimination claims brought by employees against their employers. This has led to the government announcing a £1 million investigation into the impact of maternity discrimination. The investigation is being carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and will focus on employers’ practices towards employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave. The Commission will investigate employee's experiences in the workplace and provide evidence on the extent, causes and effects of pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to treat a woman unfavourably because of her pregnancy or because of an illness suffered by her as a result of her pregnancy. It is well established in case-law that no comparison is required either with how a man would be treated in an equivalent situation or with how a non-pregnant woman would be treated. It need only be shown that the discrimination is because of the woman’s pregnancy.
In the recent example of Nixon v Ross Coates Solicitors the employee requested a move to another office following gossip relating to her pregnancy. This request was refused by her employer. The Employment Appeal Tribunal found such refusal was unreasonable and amounted to pregnancy related discrimination.
In part, due to this increasing concern about pregnancy related discrimination, the government is introducing shared parental leave from April 2015. Shared parental leave may help challenge stereotypes many women are faced with in the workplace.
Shared parental leave
Shared parental leave
In April 2015 parents will be able to share parental leave allowing parents to take up to a total of 52 weeks off work after having or adopting a child. This leave can be shared between parents, and mothers can choose to return to work more quickly and give their unused allowance to the fathers.
The idea is that the new system will allow parents to choose a pattern that works for them. The government is hoping that it will encourage fathers to play a more active role in their children’s lives and that it will reduce the burden mother’s face in terms of balancing childcare and employment. Some commentators have said however, that the changes do not go far enough to improve the situation. A concern is that fathers will not exercise their rights or will be put off from exercising their rights by employers. Further, many families will simply not be able to afford the father not working. The wage parents will receive whilst on parental leave will only be at the statutory rate unless employer’s own rules are more generous. Whilst increasingly women are becoming the main breadwinner, for most families men remain the main earner.
There has also been criticism from employers that that new system will be too onerous on small businesses and are worried that employees will abuse the new rights. However, there are safeguards in place to ensure that this does not occur. Employees must indicate to employers how they plan to share their parental leave at least eight weeks in advance. Furthermore, employers will be able to insist that employees take their leave in continuous blocks, although if the employer agrees it can be take in several shorter blocks of time. The employment rights of parents and the burden on employers is something which of course needs to be finely balanced.
Shared parental leave is a positive step in challenging the negative stereotypes of mothers in the workplace and may over time assist in reducing the still too frequent cases of women facing pregnancy related discrimination at work.
If you think you may have suffered discrimination, harassment or victimization at work call Nikita Patel on 0207 254 6205.
Dowse & Co Solicitors