The Women and Equalities Committee have reported that 11% of women have either been dismissed, made compulsorily redundant when others in their workplace were not, or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job as a result of being pregnant and/or a new mother. The Government are therefore being urged by the Committee to change the law to give new and expectant mothers additional protection from redundancy. The Committee are also pressing for a detailed plan in regards to the action that will be taken against employers for unacceptable levels of discrimination. The areas that require action appear to be twofold:
- There is a significantly low number of women whom take action against their employers when they are new and/or expectant mothers. A predominant issue is awareness of the current protection that exists and the accessibility to the Employment Tribunal in cases such as these. There are a number of deterrents which cause new and expectant mothers to shy away from taking action. Firstly the time limits involved deter women from pursuing a claim of this nature. A discrimination claim must be brought within three months of the incident of discrimination and it is understandable that during pregnancy and new motherhood it is difficult to contemplate legal action. A suggestion of an extension to six months has been made by the Committee which would afford those discriminated against in this manner sufficient time to take legal advice and issue a claim. In addition the current Tribunal fees for a discrimination case are £1,200.00. The Committee have further called for a reduction in such fees. An important aspect which may assist woman in this position now is to fully understand the help that is out there and the role that a Solicitor can play in assisting clients as little and/or as much as is required. Knowledge is power if you find yourself in this position. If you feel you are being treated unfavourably, make enquiries into the treatment you have received to assess if any claim can be made. Often many claims can be dealt with at a local level without the need to proceed to Tribunal. Following initial enquiries you can then decide your next steps.
- Those most vulnerable following the Committee’s report appear to be those whom are classified as casual, agency and/or zero-hour contract workers. Although these workers do not have the extended rights as a permanent employee, regular long term workers should be afforded protection against discrimination. The reality is that new and expectant mothers have a wide protection from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 which extends from pregnancy up until 26 weeks after your child is born and indeed beyond if the treatment is gender related. In regards to your employer, it is unlawful to discriminate against you because you are pregnant and/or if you have a pregnancy related illness. If entitled to maternity leave, the protection period extends from when you become pregnant until your maternity leave ends or you return to work. If you are not entitled to maternity leave due to the contract you are under, the protection period lasts until two weeks after your child is born. In any event you will still be protected against discrimination due to your sex after the protection period ends. It is important to review the contract that you are under to fully understand your position prior to taking any action as when you are fully aware of the rights that you have you are in a stronger position to take action yourself and/or to engage with a Solicitor for assistance.
Raising awareness and increasing the numbers of new and expectant mothers that take action against their employers will act as a deterrent to all employers and they will be inclined to comply with the protection that is currently in place, whether you are a permanent and/or zero-hour contract worker. Knowledge of the protection that the law affords is paramount however equally as crucial is the underlying protection that is afforded in the individual contracts, signed by the new and/or expectant mother in question. Keeping up to date with the legal protection afforded to you is essential and this can be easily achieved with updates such as those published by the Women and Equalities Committee. Awareness of your legal rights and those afforded to you by your individual employment contract extends beyond discrimination against new and/or expectant mothers to all areas of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 whether direct i.e. aimed at you personally as a result of your circumstances and/or indirect i.e. implementing a condition which cannot be met by you due to your personal circumstances. If you make enquiries you can always decide thereafter whether you wish to and/or feel able to pursue the matter any further.