What is maternity discrimination and how to protect yourself

Whether you are eligible to receive Statutory Maternity Pay, Maternity Allowance, or the Maternity Grant during your pregnancy, the law will protect you against discrimination while you are pregnant and also for several weeks after the birth. The Equality Act 2010 deems unfavourable treatment and direct discrimination against certain characteristics to be unlawful. One of these things which it is illegal to discriminate against is pregnancy or maternity. Read this guide on how to recognize maternity discrimination and what you can do about it if this does happen to you.

What is maternity discrimination?

Maternity discrimination is when you receive unfair treatment because you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or you have recently given birth. If it is direct discrimination then it is provable by comparing your treatment to that of another person in the same situation who is not pregnant. If it is unfavourable treatment then you just need to prove that you are worse off because of this treatment than you would have been if you were not pregnant. Your maternity does not have to be the only reason behind the discriminatory treatment, and the intentions of the person committing this discrimination against you are irrelevant. The protected period for maternity discrimination is from the beginning of the pregnancy to the end of maternity leave, or two weeks after the birth. Discriminatory treatment after this period ends is still unlawful if decisions were made during the protected period. The protection covers employees, agency workers, freelancers, and contractors against maternity discrimination.

What is maternity discrimination at work?

If you are a pregnant employee, or suffering from an illness relating to your pregnancy, then your place of work cannot discriminate against you because of this. They also cannot discriminate against you for taking maternity leave. You can only be a victim of maternity discrimination if your employer does know that you are pregnant. If a potential employer refuses to give you a job just because of your pregnancy, that counts as maternity discrimination. If you are self-employed, then you can’t claim maternity discrimination unless you work as a contractor for another company. If you are refused work because of time off for maternity or made redundant because of that, then you would still have a claim for sex discrimination instead. An employer reducing work or dismissing you due to factors relating to your pregnancy comes under maternity discrimination. It has to be primarily because of your pregnancy and not because of other issues which also affect workers who are not pregnant.

What is maternity discrimination outside of work?

It is still unlawful to treat someone unfairly outside of work because they are pregnant or have been pregnant. The law protects you against discrimination for having given birth or breastfeeding for 26 weeks after the day you gave birth. After that, any discrimination claims should be based on your sex rather than maternity. For example, discrimination against you for breastfeeding a baby more than 26 weeks old counts as direct sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Service providers can lawfully refuse to provide a service or treat you in a different way for being pregnant if it is because of health and safety reasons. These health and safety rules must also apply for people with other physical conditions in order to not be discriminating against your pregnancy.

Maternity Discrimination Rights for Employees

If you find out that you are pregnant, then you should read up on your rights and responsibilities as an employee. Legally, you have to inform your employer about your pregnancy by 15 weeks before your due date at the very latest. It is better to tell them sooner so that you can request paid time off for antenatal appointments or sick leave for pregnancy-related illness. Depending on your role and duties at work, you might have to request adjustments for health and safety reasons. It is best to give written notice to your employer so that there is a record of when you informed them that you were pregnant. This will help if you need to prove that any discrimination afterwards was due to your pregnancy. You can ask for written reasons if your employer dismisses you during your pregnancy or maternity leave to determine if the dismissal was unfair. Ensure that you get a risk assessment at work and that you are not unfairly demoted when you return to work. You should be allowed to take time off for antenatal care during the pregnancy and have the option of flexible working hours when you come back to work again.

Maternity Discrimination Rules for Employers

Employers also need to be conscious of maternity discrimination and the laws surrounding it. They need to be aware of their employees’ rights if they become pregnant and what employers are legally obligated to do for them. Employers and pregnant employees need to work together to plan around both of their needs. This includes regular communication during maternity leave and flexibility when returning to employment afterwards. During the pregnancy, employers must make appropriate adaptations to reduce health and safety risks for the pregnant employee. If employers cannot resolve the present risks then they must provide suitable alternative work for the employee at the same rate of pay, or suspend them on full pay. The employer must allow the employee to take paid time off for antenatal care appointments. Employers can only ask for proof of these appointments after the first one. After their return to work, the employer must also provide a suitable place for breastfeeding employees to rest after breastfeeding their baby or pumping breast milk.

What can you do about maternity discrimination?

If you think that you are being treated unfairly for being pregnant, you do not have to accept it. You may be able to bring a legal claim against the responsible party for maternity discrimination. Before taking the matter to an employment tribunal, you should speak to your employer. They may have been unaware of mistakes they are making and rectify them once you make them aware, so that you do not have to make a claim. If you do have to make a claim, you should not have to pay any fees to do so. You do not necessarily have to prove your unfavourable treatment using a comparator. You just need to prove that you have been disadvantaged due to your pregnancy. It is important to try resolving the issue informally amongst yourselves first to avoid further difficulties. If your senior manager, HR department, or union are unable to resolve it amicably, make a formal complaint about the situation according to your employer’s procedure for grievances. You should then contact ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) within 3 months to see if you can resolve this through mediation before the case goes to tribunal.