EHRC Scotland welcomes action on pregnancy and maternity discrimination

Published: 25 Feb 2016

The Equality and Human Rights Commission welcomes today’s announcement by the Scottish Government of a number of commitments which will help to tackle the problem of discrimination faced by pregnant women and new mothers every year.

These commitments follow on from a GB-wide report published by the Commission last year which showed that the equivalent of 54,000 women may be forced out of their jobs in Britain each year due to pregnancy and maternity discrimination. These findings, based on the largest research of its kind, led to a positive dialogue between the Commission, Scottish Government and businesses across the country. A set of Scotland-specific findings will follow this Spring.

The discussions between the Commission and the Scottish Government, designed to improve the working conditions of pregnant women and those on maternity leave, have resulted in a series of commitments which include:

  • Setting up a new working group to create guidelines for employers to ensure best practice on recruitment, retention and development of pregnant workers;
  • Strengthening employer advice to ensure that work environments are safe and healthy for pregnant women and new mothers, including providing employment rights information and;
  • Improving public monitoring and reporting of pregnancy and maternity under the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED).

Alastair Pringle, Scotland Director of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

Our pregnancy and maternity research shows that discrimination against working mothers is a significant problem in Scotland. Urgent action needs to be taken to make the changes required to end pregnancy and maternity discrimination. These commitments from the Scottish Government are very encouraging and show the leadership for change that is needed to create a positive workplace that supports pregnant women and women returning from maternity leave. 'We don’t think it’s difficult to get this right and believe the solution is mostly about communication, not cost. Employers told us that they greatly value and support pregnant women in the workplace, but pregnant women have told us that isn’t how it feels. Clearly there’s a breakdown occurring somewhere along the line. We can help with this. We have already produced a toolkit for employers which includes a diary alert system to highlight all their legal obligations and best practice case studies. We also want to underline the huge benefit to the economy and to businesses themselves. This isn’t just an equality issue; it’s a financial one too. For the Scottish economy to flourish it needs to make the most of everyone’s skills. For businesses we know that recruitment is costly and that happy workforces are more productive, meaning it’s cost effective for everyone to get this right.'

The Commission report published in July 2015 found:

  • 84% of employers believe that supporting pregnant workers and those on maternity leave is in the interests of their organisations;
  • Around 8 out of 10 employers agree that pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave are just as committed to their work as their colleagues;
  • Two thirds of employers don’t think that pregnancy puts an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace. Employers that have recent experience of employing pregnant women were generally more positive; and   
  • Two thirds of mothers who returned to work (66%) felt their employer supported them willingly during pregnancy and when they returned to work.

However, the research also suggested that for many women pregnancy and maternity at work is not a positive experience;

  • 10% are discouraged by their employer from attending antenatal appointments;
  • 1 in 5 new mothers, equivalent to 100,000 women, experienced harassment or negative comments from their colleagues, employer or manager when pregnant or returning from maternity leave.
  • 9% said that they were treated worse by their employer on their return to work than they were before pregnancy;
  • More than one in 20 (7%) said they were put under pressure to hand in their notice;
  • When mothers were allowed to work flexibly, around half reported negative consequences such as receiving fewer opportunities at work or feeling that their opinion was less valued; and
  • The impact on younger mothers( those under 25 years old)  is greater in many areas, with around 6% experiencing dismissal compared with 1% across all age groups.

Notes to editors

For more press information and interviews contact Sarah Thoms on 0141 228 5974, out of office hours 07854 193592.

Read the full report.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission commissioned the research in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The research company IFF Research Ltd interviewed 3,254 mothers with a child under 2 years old and 3,034 workplaces across the UK in the largest ever survey of its kind.

Discrimination against pregnant women and those on maternity leave is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

It is unlawful for an employer to treat a woman unfavourably because she is pregnant, is ill because of her pregnancy, is on maternity leave, has taken maternity leave or has tried or intends to take maternity leave.

Examples of discrimination include:

  • Making a woman redundant because she is pregnant, or on maternity leave
  • Not offering the same training or promotion opportunities to a woman because she is pregnant or on maternity leave
  • Dismissing a woman because of pregnancy-related sickness
  • Dismissing a woman on maternity leave shortly before she is due to return to work (or after she returns) and keeping the person covering her maternity leave on instead
  • Refusing a pregnant employee reasonable time off for ante-natal appointments.

Please visit here for the Code of Practice on Employment 

Press contact details

For more press information contact the Commission's media office on:

0161 829 8102