What does the Equality Act say about pregnancy and maternity?

You are protected from discrimination over the ‘protected period’ which is from conception to the end of statutory maternity leave. It covers you in all areas of employment such as redundancy, recruitment, promotion, training and personally providing a service as someone who is self-employed. Outside of work, you are protected against maternity discrimination for 26 weeks after giving birth. This means that you cannot treat a woman unfavourably for breastfeeding.

What is significant about legislation covering pregnancy and maternity?

  • Male comparator: pregnancy and maternity discrimination is regarded as automatic discrimination without the need to provide a male comparator. In other sex discrimination instances, a male comparator (actual or hypothetical) is used to test whether a man would have been treated more favourably in similar circumstances.
  • Health and safety: employers must make sufficient health and safety assessments of the risks pregnant employees and new mothers face at work. They must provide adequate rest and meal breaks for breastfeeding.
  • Flexible working: if you have a child under 17, you have the right to request flexible working and your employer must consider your request using the statutory procedures.
  • Statutory right to paid time off for ante-natal care: regardless of hours worked or length or service you are entitled to this.
  • Statutory maternity leave: you are entitled to one year’s statutory maternity leave regardless of length of service.

What types of behaviour and actions constitutes discrimination against someone over the period of pregnancy and maternity?

  • Being dismissed or made compulsorily redundant due to pregnancy or maternity leave.
  • You are bullied for being pregnant so you have to leave your job
  • Your managers deny flexible working arrangements.
  • Pressured into not attending antenatal appointments
  • Being denied a promotion because you are pregnant.
  • Being asked about your maternity and pregnancy status at an interview.

What is the current socio-cultural and political environment for those who fall within this protected characteristic?

A report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in August 2016 reveals that the pay gap between the genders widens markedly after maternity leave with women earning 18% less than men on average, this rises to 33% 12 years after the birth of the first child. The figures reveal the structural inequities affecting women which negates their drive for career formation.  Current legislation relies on employers to voluntarily introduce measures to ensure that the career development of the genders and pay is not determined by discriminatory practice and prejudice.