In Brief

Maternity leave discrimination: What you need to know

Citizens Advice records 60 per cent rise discussing redundancy, reduced hours and role changes for mothers

160822-pregnant-woman.jpg

There has been a huge rise in the number of women seeking advice in relation to discrimination at work while they are on maternity leave.

Citizens Advice has recorded a 60 per cent increase in calls for the first six months of this year, up to 3,300 from 2,099 in the same period in 2015, reports The Guardian.

Chief executive Gillian Guy said the surge was the result of an increase in "bad bosses" ignoring legal protections, which she in turn blamed on the introduction of employment tribunal fees and a trend towards more flexible working arrangements like "zero-hours" contracts.

Since 2013, workers have had to pay between £160 and £250 to make a claim to a tribunal, plus up to £950 if a hearing is granted. These costs may be reimbursed by the employer if they lose the case and there is government support available for those on benefits or low pay.

Citizens Advice's most common cases relate to women on maternity leave being made redundant, or who, on their return to work, are offered a different role with reduced hours or diminished status, said Guy.

Danielle Ayres, an associate solicitor at law firm Gorvins, which specialises in maternity and pregnancy rights, told Newsweek the figures were encouraging in one respect as they indicated more women were "looking to defend themselves and take a stand against this type of behaviour".

However, this is only true in the context of a massive increase in recent years in instances of maternity discrimination.

A survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission last year estimated 54,000 new mothers are forced out of work each year because of discrimination, twice as many as in 2005.

In terms of action to address this issue, both Guy and Sam Smethers, the chief executive at the UK's leading women's rights charity, the Fawcett Society, have called for employment tribunal fees to be scrapped as a first step.

Guy also recommends the government looks to create "one well-resourced, effective body to investigate bad practice", replacing the current system where the law is policed by a range of organisations from HMRC to the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.

Importantly, women need to be able to recognise they have been the victim of discrimination. According to a guide from Acas, they should know:

  • if you are on maternity leave, in general you should be able to return on the same terms;
  • while employers can make you redundant if there is a genuine reason, such as an office or department being closed, they can't justify doing so just because they've found a way to cover the work;
  • if you can't be offered your old job, you are entitled to another job on the same terms and on the same basis, including location, pay and level of responsibility;
  • where your job is being made redundant and another equivalent post is available, it must be offered to you without the need for an interview;
  • where a replacement job is not equivalent, you can refuse an offer or invitation to apply without compromising your entitlement to redundancy compensation;
  • if you are made redundant while on maternity leave, you are still entitled to statutory maternity pay. You may lose any enhanced maternity pay in your contract, however;
  • employers cannot justify treatment that breaches rules on the basis of equality with other workers – workers on maternity leave or who are pregnant are recognised by the law to be a special case,
  • and if you want to work flexibly on your return from maternity leave, the employer is obliged to consider the request and can only reject it for genuine business reasons

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