A recent report published by the Women and Equalities Select Committee estimates that three-quarters of pregnant women experience a negative or discriminatory effect at work, and figures are worse now than in 2005.
Specifically, the report estimates that 53,000 women each year are being discouraged from attending ante-natal appointments by their employers.
This is despite permanent employees having a legal right to time off for these crucial check-ups.
The report also estimates that 25% of women have left their jobs because health and safety concerns regarding pregnancy and maternity were not met.
MPs are now demanding urgent action.
The Select Committee’s report has called for Britain to put in place protection similar to that in Germany.
There pregnant women can only be made redundant in certain circumstances.
The report recommends the following:
Extending the time limit for issuing a tribunal claim for pregnancy or maternity discrimination (from three to six months). This would allow mothers more time to decide whether they are going to pursue litigation
A substantial reduction in tribunal fees to reflect the fact that many new mothers will be on limited or no pay
That the government monitors access to free, good-quality, one-to-one advice on pregnancy and maternity discrimination issues. To assess whether additional resources are required.
In light of the report findings, it’s difficult not to support these recommendations.
The harsh commercial reality however is that pregnancy and maternity present financial and logistical challenges to businesses, particularly small ones.
Recruiting someone to fill a temporary role can be expensive and time consuming.
Furthermore, both pregnancy and maternity do bring a level of uncertainty for an employer. Will that member of staff will be willing and able to work on their return?
It would be encouraging to see the government implementing initiatives that help small businesses in the future, as opposed to introducing more legislation which is likely to make some employers even more fearful of employees getting pregnant.
They could, for example, look at offering assistance with agency fees to help with temporary recruitment costs.
Or they could set up a dedicated service within ACAS to provide advice on managing pregnancy and maternity issues.
Recognising both sides of the equation is essential if we are going to change the views of both employees and employers.