Today new figures from national charity Citizens Advice reveal a 25% rise in people seeking advice on pregnancy and maternity discrimination over the past year. This is a symptom of a growing problem with new and expectant mums being treated unfairly at work.
77% of mums report negative or discriminatory experience
Incredibly, between April 2015 and March 2016, almost 2,000 people turned to Citizens Advice for help with pregnancy and maternity discrimination, up from just over 1,500 in the previous 12 months.
This is in line with the research published at the end of last year by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which revealed that over three quarters (77%) of mothers reported a negative or possibly discriminatory experience at work during their pregnancy, maternity leave or on their return to work.
The stories I’ve heard from mums I often talk to, and backed up by the evidence from Citizens Advice, are shocking. Pregnant women and new mums have had their working hours cut, been put onto zero-hours contracts, pressured to return to work early from maternity leave and, in extreme cases, have been forced out of their jobs. Women are made redundant in the last few weeks of pregnancy and are discouraged from attending their antenatal appointments. Women go back to work after maternity leave to be welcomed by a pay cut or a more junior role against their wishes.
This is not the case for every woman or indeed every employer. There are many employers who recognise that it is in their interests to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave. Many employers agree that the statutory rights relating to pregnancy and maternity are reasonable and easy to implement.
Why don’t women speak up?
It is against the law for employers to discriminate against their employees by refusing to uphold their maternity rights at work. But often women are so scared of losing their jobs – what employer will recruit a woman in her last few weeks of pregnancy – that they don’t speak up. Or they don’t know where to turn for help and advice. As I highlighted on Sky News earlier today, women don’t speak up – they accept the change to their hours or location or role because they don’t want to lose their job altogether; these women are caught between a rock & a hard place.
Yet this contrasts sharply with the report published by the TUC on Monday that fathers working full-time get paid a fifth more (21%) than men with similar jobs who don’t have children.
What can you do if you feel unfairly treated?
If you are at all unsure of whether you have been treated fairly or legally, get the facts. Get professional objective advice. Anyone with concerns about pregnancy or maternity discrimination can get free, impartial advice from their local Citizens Advice or go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk.
Pregnant Then Screwed runs a free legal advice line which you can access HERE.
Many employment lawyers will offer an initial consultation for free. My top recommendation is Danielle Ayres at Gorvins.
Citizens Advice offer this advice to new and expectant mums to help them make the most of their maternity rights at work:
- When to tell your employer you are pregnant. You must tell your employer you are pregnant at least 15 weeks before your due date to make sure you will be able to take maternity leave and time off for ante-natal care.
How to claim Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance. Ask your midwife or GP to give you a claim form or you can download it from www.gov.uk/employers-maternity-pay-leave/entitlement.
Where to find out about your maternity rights. You can get helpful information from the ACAS helpline on 0300 123 1100 or the EHRC website.
How to work out what pay you are entitled to. You can check your legal entitlements using the government’s online calculator. Check your contract or speak to your employer to see if they offer any extra support.
Where to go if things go wrong. Sometimes your employer may not know your rights and you may feel you’re not being treated fairly. You can find out more at www.citizensadvice.org.uk or contact your local Citizens Advice for help.
Mums who have been affected by unfair or negative treatment, don’t need to feel they just have to accept it. Check your rights and get advice. Leave a comment below if you have a story to share.