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Maternity Action

Maternity and pregnancy discrimination

Despite the number of women participating in the labour marker being at an all time high and improved legal rights over the last 40 years recent research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has shown that the pregnancy and maternity related discrimination is still very high and lists the myriad of problems women encounter.   

The Equality Act 2010 provides that pregnancy or maternity related discrimination is unlawful.  The protection against discrimination lasts for a specific period of time which starts when a woman becomes pregnant. This is called the protected period.

The protected period ends when a woman’s maternity leave ends or when she  returns to work, if this is earlier.

If women are treated unfavourably after this period ends, they could still be protected due to sex discrimination.

Despite the protections afforded by the Equality Act 2010, significant further work is needed to ensure that women do not continue to be disadvantaged in the workplace as a result of their decision to have children.

The figures from the EHRC research are very stark and illustrate that  1 in 20 women are made redundant during their pregnancy, maternity leave or on their return to work, equating to 6% of all pregnant women. The numbers of new and expectant mothers who feel forced out their job has nearly doubled. Women experiencing discrimination during pregnancy or new motherhood face significant challenges as follows:

·       Around one in nine mothers (11%) reported that they were either dismissed/ made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job.

  • One in five mothers said they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and /or colleagues.


  • 10% of mothers said their employer discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments.

A report prepared by the Maternity Action group (download PDF) examines the research by the EHRC, the current legal framework regarding redundancies and additional protection of pregnant women and women on maternity leave. Additionally, the report cites women’s experiences of redundancy and sets out a number of recommendations.

The report calls on the government to make  a number of legislative changes to ensure a safe working environment for new and expectant mothers, to prevent discriminatory redundancies and to increase protection for casual, agency and zero-hours workers. The reports asks the Government to take urgent action to remove barriers to justice and should seek ways of reducing the burden on women and to make it easier for them to take action.