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How to Spot Maternity Discrimination In The Workplace

When we apply for a job we assume potential employers are scrutinising our skills and achievements.

But research carried out by Slater and Gordon Lawyers has shown that a high proportion of bosses consider far more than our CV, experience and talents when deciding who will get a job.

Indeed, almost one in three UK bosses admits they have or would reject a female job applicant because they suspect she “might start a family soon” with 14 per cent saying they do nothing to support mothers coming back to work after maternity leave.

That’s why it’s vital women know their rights and know how to spot the signs of discrimination in the workplace.

What is Maternity Discrimination?

It’s when you’re treated unfairly because you’re pregnant, exercising the right to maternity leave, breastfeeding or because you’ve recently given birth.

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from certain types of discrimination relating to the protected characteristic of pregnancy and maternity. These characteristics cover a woman from when she becomes pregnant until her maternity leave ends or she returns to work (or opts to leave employment).

During that time – known as the protected period – she is protected against discrimination because:

* Of her pregnancy.

* Of any illness related to her pregnancy, or absence because of that illness.

* She is seeking to take, taking or taken maternity pay and/or leave.

* The employer does not want her to return to work because she is breastfeeding.

Once the protected period ends, it can still be unlawful to treat a woman unfairly because of her pregnancy, maternity or breastfeeding. This might be because the unfair treatment stems from a decision taken during the protected period. Or, she might claim sex discrimination.

How do I spot signs of discrimination?

There are various ways to spot sex and maternity discrimination.

A few of the most common are:

  1. A mother-to-be or new mum being dismissed or forced out of a job because of her pregnancy and/or maternity.
  2. Managers believing mothers-to-be will only be able to cope with a lower level of work or less work and therefore overlooking them for promotion or taking their roles and responsibilities away.
  3. Women may also feel they have to settle for low-paid, part-time work on returning to employment because employers believe they will not be as committed because they have a family.

Does a job applicant have to tell a prospective employer they’re pregnant?

A job applicant does not have to tell the employer during the recruitment process that she is pregnant.

When she volunteers information about her pregnancy or maternity, interviewers and recruitment decision makers should not be influenced by that information.

If she gets the job, she must tell the employer of her pregnancy if there are any health and safety reasons, and to take time off for antenatal appointments in work time.

Generally, the rule is that an employee must tell her employer at the latest by the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (when she is about six months’ pregnant) to give notice of her intention to take maternity leave and pay.

However, in circumstances where an applicant joins a new employer after the 15th week before childbirth, the law says she must tell the employer as soon as is ‘reasonably practicable’.

Notifying your employers early that you’re pregnant can be beneficial because it means they will be aware of their obligations to you – particularly those relating to health and safety. You should confirm your pregnancy in writing.

What can be asked at an interview?

Sadly, the research carried out by Slater and Gordon revealed that 36 per cent of bosses think “women are more of a future investment risk than men”, with 37 per cent admitting they would advertise positions for men only if the law allowed.

It’s unlawful to discriminate against prospective employees and there are things to watch out for when it comes to applying for a job or going for an interview:

  1. Advertisements, job descriptions and person specification for a vacancy shouldn’t reference pregnancy and maternity.

  2. Adverts should pinpoint skills, experience and qualifications for the job. Employers should be clear on exactly what is needed for the post so that managers are objective in assessing and selecting candidates. This should reduce the chances of ruling out a candidate because she is pregnant or on maternity leave.
  3. Prospective staff are only obliged to provide personal information that is relevant to the job and/or administration of the recruitment process.
  4. You shouldn’t be asked questions of a personal nature unrelated to the job and application – for example, if you are pregnant or planning to have children.
  5. Recruitment agencies who’ve been instructed by a company should comply with the Equality Act and an employer is not allowed to suggest to the agency that it would prefer candidates who are not pregnant or on maternity leave.
  6. On offering the job, employers must select and appoint the best candidate and not rule out the most suitable applicant because she is pregnant or cannot start until after her maternity leave.

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