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Proposed action over alarming rate of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in UK workplaces

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It has been reported that around 390,000 pregnant women and new mothers report being treated unfairly in UK workplaces. Furthermore, the number of women who feel forced to leave work altogether after falling pregnant or having children has recently doubled, now standing at a staggering 54,000.

In view of this,  the Women and Equalities Committee is now pushing for the government to implement ambitious plans to address common problems that women face.  Conservative MP Maria Miller who chairs of the committee has said "The arrival of a new baby puts family finances under extreme pressure yet, despite this, thousands of expectant and new mothers have no choice but to leave their work because of concerns about the safety of their child or pregnancy discrimination".

With record numbers of women within the UK workforce, concerns are growing that the wider UK economy will suffer unless employers modernise practices to ensure appropriate support and adequate protection is in place for expectant and new mothers.

Amongst a variety of measures, the Women and Equalities Committee have recommended reforms to health and safety practices, action to prevent discriminatory redundancies and an increase in protection available those employees engaged on a casual, agency or zero-hours basis.

Many consider that the introduction of employment tribunal fees has further exacerbated the problems women face, as employees are now considered less likely or able to challenge discriminatory treatment at work, given the significant and prohibitive costs of doing so.

In addition to these proposals and in response to the alarming statistics relating to discrimination suffered by women within the UK, some of Britain’s leading employers are now vowing to fight against pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work as part of a scheme set up by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.  ‘Working Forward – supporting pregnancy and maternity rights’ is an initiative involving a variety of large UK businesses including Barclays, Royal Mail and BT Group, and is aimed at eradicating discrimination.

The founding businesses of Working Forward will encourage other business to sign up and pledge to make their workplaces free from discrimination. It is hoped through the scheme that long-term changes will be achieved through a variety of measures including appointing a gender equality champion at board level within businesses, training and supporting managers, and promoting family friendly policies including the offer of flexible working for new vacancies where possible.

David Isaac who is the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “We can no longer accept women being unfairly treated at work because they are pregnant or on maternity leave. We are calling on employers to sign up to our initiative to commit to delivering equality and ensure working environments benefit everyone.  Attracting, developing and retaining talent, regardless of gender, is absolutely critical for the UK economy and for our businesses. Companies that show a real commitment to this are not only doing the right thing but can also gain a competitive edge.”

For advice on any of the issues contained within this article, including implementing appropriate workplace policies, please contact a member of the Chattertons Employment Team.