Pregnancy and maternity discrimination – your rights.

Since coming across Joeli’s blog on Mumsnet, I have been completely hooked (and left in shock) reading about the poor treatment some have received as a result of having a baby, whether they be comments on the blog or stories posted on Pregnant then Screwed.  

As both a mum of 2 young boys and an employment solicitor, this is an area which I am extremely interested in. Since returning to work after my own maternity leave, I have concentrated my efforts on helping women who have suffered discrimination in the workplace, due to pregnancy or maternity. This is in part, due to the countless stories I heard whilst I was on maternity leave myself.

I would sit with my own baby at Mother & Baby Groups and listen (flabbergasted) as others said they had been denied a bonus whilst they were pregnant (a bonus they had worked hard to achieve); that they had been passed over for promotion due to being on maternity leave, or that their employer had told them they hadn’t accrued any holiday whilst they’d been off work.   

As a new mum myself, it made me feel quite upset that such precious, quality time was being ruined for these women, when in fact their employment rights were enhanced at that time and they were quite heavily protected.  When I asked for details and challenged the problems they had or were encountering, it amazed me how employers had sought to take advantage of them.  It also surprised me how little these women knew about their rights whilst they were pregnant. While on maternity leave and when returning to work, I often found myself stepping out of my ‘Mummy’ shoes and into full-on solicitor mode to give these mums the advice necessary to assist them through the legal maze.  

Even with the most simple of things, for example, that you do indeed accrue holiday pay whilst on maternity leave, that you do have a right to return to the same, or a similar role, and that if a redundancy situation arose whilst you were on maternity leave you had to be offered a suitable alternative role above other affected employees. I found that either the women did not know their rights and had pulled their hair out worrying about these issues, or that employers had not freely passed on this information which would have eased the burden for these mothers whilst on maternity leave.

Understandably, it wasn’t easy for these mums to state their case effectively at this time; mainly because their priority was their unborn or newborn baby. As they were out of the workplace, they would be nervous about what was taking place in their absence, so I constantly assured them that they were perhaps better protected whilst on maternity leave than at any other time. It was simply confidence and knowledge of their rights and knowing how to enforce them which was key.

Here are your main rights:

  • Maternity leave of up to a year
  • Maternity pay for 39 weeks
  • Reasonable paid time off for ante-natal appointments (and the ability for partners to now accompany you)
  • Contractual rights should continue during maternity leave, including accrual of holidays and pension contributions
  • The right to return to the same job if taken up to 26 weeks’ leave and right to return to a similar position if over 26 weeks
  • Redundancy protection
  • Protection from dismissal and detriment due to pregnancy/maternity leave

If you have suffered maternity discrimination whilst at work make sure you tell your story on Pregnant Then Screwed. We need to let the world know how common this problem is for women. If you need help you can contact me on 0161 930 5243.

Danielle Ayres

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