Under employment law in the UK, pregnancy and maternity discrimination protection mainly applies to a certain period of time known as the “protected period”, which starts when you inform your employer of your pregnancy.
Any discriminatory act, once the protected period ends, may still amount to pregnancy discrimination if it an outcome of a decision taken by the employer within the protected period. If you are on maternity leave, the protected period ends as soon as your maternity leave ends or when you return to work, whichever is earlier.
If an employee is treated unfairly because their employer assumes them to be pregnant or because they believe them to be connected to someone who is pregnant, they may not be protected from discrimination under the protected period. However, they are still protected under other protected characteristics like age, race, sex or sexual orientation.
Supporting Employees Through the Protected Period
There are simple steps that an employer must take once their employee informs them of their pregnancy. To manage the situation, therefore, the employer must plan ahead after considering the wellbeing and needs of both employee and business.
First, it is essential for the employers to agree to a method of regular communication. While it’s particularly important to get this right during the protected period, it’s also helpful to communicate during pregnancy and after childbirth.
It is also important to be open-minded and flexible with the work responsibilities of the employee. Depending on the circumstances, employers must be flexible while handling issues like arranging temporary cover during maternity leave, morning sickness, pregnancy related illness and flexible working arrangements.
Adaptations at Work to Help Pregnant Employees
It is important to make sure that the general workplace is safe for both pregnant employees and new mothers. Therefore, it is essential that employers must regularly conduct health and safety assessments to mitigate risks for any pregnant employee or an employee who has given birth in the last six months or is breastfeeding.
According to UK employment law, it is the responsibility of the employer to provide somewhere suitable for a breastfeeding employee to rest. It is important that the employer provides a private, safe and hygienic place for their employees to breastfeed, express breast milk and then store it somewhere cool.
Managing Absence From Work of Pregnant Employees
Whether it is during the protected period or outside, the law directs employers not to take advantage of an employee’s absence from work because of her pregnancy or maternity.
Depending on their work policy, employers may wish to record all pregnancy and maternity leaves. However, it must not include them in ‘managing absence triggers’. These are the number of days of absence when managers would consider issuing warnings, and ultimately termination of employment unless attendance at work for that employee improves.
Making a Claim For Pregnancy And Maternity Discrimination
If an employee feels they been discriminated against or have suffered unfair dismissal or redundancy, they may choose to make an employment tribunal claim. However, it is best if they first talk to their employer and try to sort the matter informally.
As it is, there is no need to pay a fee to make a claim to the employment tribunal since July 26, 2017. Therefore, you may be able to make the claim if an employer:
- refuses to hire you because of your pregnancy or the fact that you were on maternity leave;
- doesn’t allow you to take reasonable paid time off for antenatal appointments;
- fails to protect your health and safety in the workplace;
- dismisses you;
- changes or removes your job responsibilities without your consent; unless:
- treats you badly because of any pregnancy-related illness;
- excludes you from business trips or refuses to allow you to travel, when it is still safe;
- refuses to let you have the same training opportunities as your colleagues;
- doesn’t consider you for promotion;
- denies you a pay rise or bonus;
- otherwise treats you unfavourably, for example by ignoring you, or making hurtful comments about your pregnancy or maternity leave.
Tom Street qualified as a solicitor in 2003 and has over 20 years experience in employment and litigation law. He studied law at the University of Manchester before undertaking the legal practice course at the College of Law in Guildford, going on to complete his legal training at a firm in Chancery Lane, London. Once fully qualified, he moved to a niche litigation practice in the City of London.
In 2010, Tom set up his own legal practice, Tom Street & Co Solicitors and as part of this, in accordance with his strongly held objective to provide everyone with an easy pathway to justice he established the online portals Do I Have A Case? and Tribunal Claim. These websites are trading names of Tom Street & Co Solicitors.