Thousands of working mums are cutting short their maternity leave over fears that taking more time off will jeopardise their job.
Just 12 per cent of women take the full year allowed by law and three-quarters (75 per cent) of those who don’t, regret their decision, a new study has found.
Concerns about being side-lined, edged out or pressure from their boss lead many to return to work, with almost one in five (18 per cent) going back within four months of giving birth.
Almost a third (30 per cent) felt their managers wouldn’t have supported them taking more time off and 11 per cent say fear it could damage their career was the main reason for their decision.
Thirty-nine per cent admitted they weren’t sure their job would be waiting for them when they went back.
Employment law specialist, Harriet Bowtell, from Slater and Gordon, who commissioned the research, said: “Maternity leave is about giving women the choice to return to work when they’re ready and not because they feel pressure to or fear for their job.
“Some women choose to go back for financial reasons or simply because they want to, but if the decision is driven by discrimination then that is unacceptable.
“Sadly, we still frequently speak to women who have had their careers stifled or damaged because of the time they took out for maternity leave.
“It is disappointing that so many are still so worried the same thing will happen to them that they go back to work earlier than they might want.”
The survey of 2,000 working mothers found almost half (44 per cent) were unhappy with how they had been treated by their employer.
Forty-two per cent say attitudes changed as soon as they announced they were pregnant, with one in 10 (10 per cent) experiencing inappropriate behaviour or comments from colleagues. One woman described how she was denied extra help because it was ‘her fault for getting pregnant,’ while others were criticised for taking ‘free’ time off.
Thirty per cent claim they were sidelined straightaway, while 14 per cent even felt under pressure to quit.
Whilst on leave, almost one in five (19 per cent) regularly took calls and checked emails relating to work and 17 per cent went into their workplace – on average once a week.
Even on their return, more than a third (36 per cent) said their role had changed and eight per cent had found themselves at risk of redundancy.
Ms Bowtell added: “The law clearly states that it is unlawful to treat employees unfavourably because they are pregnant or on maternity leave, but sadly this is still a real problem.
“To suggest that your employer may be guilty of this can be uncomfortable and intimidating but if you don’t want it to continue then it is important that you do.
“If you are concerned then speak to a professional first who can assess your situation and advise you on where you stand and what you should do next.”