The BBC news has today reported on how Sarah Rees was discriminated against on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity, and by looking at the findings from the YouGov survey of small, medium and large firms, this is something which is happening to a vast majority of women on a daily basis!
Sarah Rees’ story is far from unusual, she loved her job and so when she fell pregnant she wanted to return to work following maternity leave when her baby was 12 weeks old. However, her attempts to contact her employer fell on deaf ears and before she knew it and without any due consultation process being carried out, she received a formal notice of redundancy. What is also not unusual about this situation, is the unfortunate reality that a number of businesses do not understand enough about what constitutes discrimination and the benefits of flexible working and building employee confidence.
Sarah’s main reason for not taking her former employers to tribunal was due to the fact that she could not afford to do so. However, with the recent abolition of tribunal fees, employers should be aware that this could therefore give rise to an increase in claims being brought.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC chief executive has commented that “It is a depressing reality that, when it comes to the rights of pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace, we are still living in the dark ages.” The complaints identified by the YouGov survey focus upon the belief that women who have children are generally less interested in career progression, are an unnecessary cost burden, raise resentment and are a burden to their team. This then gives rise to employers asking female candidates as part of a recruitment process questions around family planning and whether or not they already have any young children, without realising the potential litigation risk they are opening themselves up to by doing so.
Ignorance to the law is not a defence and Sarah Rees who now runs her own business helping women get back into the workplace, says she has heard “plenty” of other people with similar stories to her own. Therefore, whilst is remains possible to make employees on maternity leave redundant, the advice is to ensure that if doing so, you not only have a fair and genuine business reason for doing so, but that the correct procedure is adhered to. As this is a complex area of law with employers potentially openly discriminating without realising they are doing so, the best course of action is to seek legal advice in all instances to err on the side of caution and to get it right.
If therefore you would like to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers, then contact a member of our Employment Law team on 01274 864999.