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Working Forward

Working forward is a national campaign recently launched by The Equality and Human Rights Commission (the EHRC) to support new mothers and pregnant women in the workplace.

The EHRC is leading the initiative to help eradicate pregnancy and maternity discrimination that affects around 390,000 pregnant women and new mothers each year. One of the aims of Working Forward is to show employers how to attract, develop and retain women at work.

As part of Working Forward, the EHRC is asking employers to make a pledge to ensure that their workplace is the best it can possibly be for pregnant women and new mothers. Working Forward is also backed by influential business bodies such as the CBI, Institute of Directors (IOD), the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Working Forward follows the outcome of the EHRC’s programme of research to investigate the prevalence and nature of pregnancy discrimination/disadvantage in the workplace.

Sadly, the research showed that:

  • 77 per cent of mothers said they had had a negative or discriminatory experience at work.
  • 11 per cent of mothers reported that they were treated so poorly that they felt they had to leave their job.
  • 20 per cent of mothers said they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and /or colleagues.
  • 10 per cent of mothers said their employer discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments.

The findings are alarming and demonstrate that more needs to be done to tackle the issues faced by new mothers and pregnant women in the workplace. 

To help combat the issues, as part of the Working Forward campaign, the EHRC suggests that businesses take action in two of the four following areas:

  1. Demonstrating leadership from the top down – By making all staff and management aware of and committed to policies relating to maternity and pregnancy.

    This should help to foster a supportive culture in which employees can flourish.

  2. Ensuring confident employees – By making all staff aware that it is acceptable to talk to their line managers about maternity and paternity policies and any issues they may be having.

    If employees are confident that the business will welcome the news of their pregnancy then this is likely to result in a more productive and content workforce.

  3. Training and supporting line managers – Making line managers in the business aware that when a member of staff becomes pregnant , it does not need to be difficult and that it can be managed effectively.

    There are a number of family friendly employment rights to assist mothers-to-be, new mothers and their partners. These include SPLIT daysKIT days and Shared Parental Leave.

  4. Offering flexible working practices –Employers should inform employees of the various types of flexible or agile working practices available to them.

    Employees who have worked for an employer for 26 weeks or more have the right to request flexible working. Requests must be considered properly and can only be turned down if there is a legitimate business reason.

    For more information read our blog: Flexible Working in the UK in 2016.

It is hoped that those employers who sign up to Working Forward will help drive positive and cultural change through actions such as nominating a gender equality champion at board level, training and supporting line managers, and promoting family friendly policies including advertising all jobs as open to flexible working where appropriate. These actions should, in the long term, help businesses begin to tackle the pressing challenges they often face to reduce their pay gaps, and enable women to develop their careers.

For details of how your employer can pledge support, check out the Working Forward campaign.

Marsha Thompson is an Employment Lawyer based in the London office of Slater and Gordon Lawyers. Marsha helps individuals to challenge unfair work practices including issues with pregnancy/maternity discrimination.

If you suffer either maternity discrimination or pregnancy-related discrimination at work you can call our employment law solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online. We can offer immediate representation anywhere in the UK for maternity discrimination cases. Claims for pregnancy or maternity discrimination must be brought in the Employment Tribunal within three months less one day of the adverse treatment taking place.

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