Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that 77% of people who were pregnant or on maternity leave said they had a negative or possible discriminatory experience in the workplace. This included being:

  • demoted
  • refused training opportunities
  • put under pressure to leave.

A recent case in the UK – Mrs Sisk versus Department for Work and Pensions – illustrated how far employers lag behind in their stated commitment to supporting those who are pregnant or on maternity leave. In this particular case, the employee was unable to return to the job that they originally held, there was no communication in the run-up to maternity leave or during it, and the member of staff was not made aware of training opportunities. The court made a point of stating that there seemed to be a lack of training for managers around pregnancy and maternity rights. This finding is confirmed by a report by the Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons.

In general, the UK workplace remains antagonistic towards those who are pregnant or on maternity leave. There are few flexible working options – with less than 9% of jobs advertised in the UK offering this. One in five people have said they experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from employers and colleagues. That said, employers do agree that it remains cost-effective to retain staff returning after maternity leave. However, there is little evidence of consistent practice in the area.

What are the main recommendations for employers?

  1. Improve retention rates for those returning from maternity leave. Monitor and measure progress.
  2. Commitment to the issue needs to include senior staff as well as other people in the organisation.
  3. Implement a return to work buddy or coach system.
  4. Ensure managers are aware of policies and rights. Free online training available through ACAS.
  5. Provide support to managers who need to implement pregnancy and maternity policies. EHRC has produced a toolkit for managers.
  6. Ensure there is regular communication while on leave.
  7. Set up a support network for those on pregnancy and maternity leave.
  8. Employers should undertake individual risk assessments.
  9. Trans or gender noncomforming employees who are out in the workplace, who are carrying or have completed a pregnancy, may need additional support to ensure they are not faced with transphobic discrimination as well. Ensure managers are trained to communicate respectfully and knowledgeably with employees regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. You can use PRIDE in Healthcare resources developed by the EDI Team.
  10. It is important to consider making any changes to an employee’s workplace during pregnancy, prior to their maternity leave to make the workplace more accommodating.

BSUH NHS Trust is committed to a workplace that values those who are pregnant or on maternity leave and has signed the #WorkingForward pledge.

BSUH NHS Trust staff should review the hospital’s Parent Leave Policy.


EHRC, Pregnancy and maternity discrimination research

EHRC, Recommendations to tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination

EHRC Report, Pregnancy and maternity in the workplace – recommendations for change

Working Forward

House of Commons, Pregnancy and maternity discrimination

ACAS, Overview on paternity Leave

Gov. uk, Paternity leave and pay – an employers guide

Maternity Action