It has long been the case that employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave are protected from discrimination or being dismissed because of their pregnancy or maternity leave. But for every respectable employer treating pregnant employees with decency, there are others that think that maternity leave is nothing but an inconvenience.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report on pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Some of the main findings of their research are staggering:
• 11% reported they had been dismissed, made redundant or been treated so badly that they had to resign after notifying their employer of their pregnancy
• 20% said they had experienced harassment because of their pregnancy
• 27% of employers felt pregnancy put an unreasonable cost burden on the company
• 68% of mothers made flexible working requests and of those requests that were approved, 51% of them said that they felt they were treated negatively because of this.
Howells employment and discrimination team regularly handle pregnancy discrimination claims. But whilst there is legal protection for pregnant employees and those on maternity leave, it was estimated that only 1% of women would pursue a discrimination claim. This may well be due to the fees involved for seeking legal advice.
Howells Solicitors provides discrimination advice under the Civil Legal Advice scheme, as one of only three specialist providers nationally. This legal help scheme offers free legal assistance to those who are financially eligible.
As the workplace is changing, businesses need to be more agile as flexible working is becoming common place. More often than not, employers tend to find that permitting flexible working increases loyalty, morale and productivity.
Personally, I have, thankfully, recently had a positive experience of parental leave. While often the arrival of a new baby is associated with the mother taking 9 -12 months maternity leave and the father having 2 weeks paternity leave, a new scheme was introduced in 2014 – shared parental leave. This summer, I embarked on a 3 month period of shared parental leave. To have this opportunity to take this precious time off is one I could not turn down. I’m a pioneer for shared parental leave within the firm. Take up nationally has been very low – data from HMRC shows that only 3,000 couples took SPL in the first quarter of 2016, which equates to 2% of those families in which the mother took maternity leave during this time.
I can only be thankful for Howells being supportive in the way that all employers need to be in the modern world. The roles of men and women are changing, the set routine of a 9-5, Monday to Friday working week are changing and now is the time for employers to adapt and I can only encourage them to do so for the benefit of not just their employees but their business as well.