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Pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work - specific situations

This advice applies to Scotland

If an employer treats you unfairly because you’re pregnant or because you’ve recently had a baby, you may have been discriminated against.

The Equality Act 2010 calls this pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The protection against discrimination is in addition to your other rights under employment law if you’re pregnant.

Read this page to find out about situations where you may be able to complain about pregnancy and maternity discrimination under the Equality Act.

What’s pregnancy and maternity discrimination?

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is when your employer treats you unfairly because you’re pregnant or because you’ve recently had a baby, and you suffer a disadvantage as a result - for example, if you’re dismissed or refused a promotion.

The Equality Act 2010 says you’ve been treated unfavourably.

Your employer mustn’t take into account any periods of pregnancy-related sickness absence when making a decision about your employment. Otherwise it will be pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

In particular, employers must ignore pregnancy-related absences:

  • when calculating employment rights to do with length of service - for example, when choosing staff for redundancy
  • if they take action against you for a poor attendance record.

Example

You’ve been off sick with pregnancy complications for several weeks. Your employer has now dismissed you in accordance with their sickness policy.

This is unlawful pregnancy and maternity discrimination. You’ve been dismissed because of a pregnancy-related illness. It doesn’t matter that your employer would have dismissed someone else who’d been off sick for the same amount of time.

If you’ve had a miscarriage

If you’re off work sick because you’ve had a miscarriage your sickness absence should be treated in the same way by your employer as if you were off because of pregnancy-related illness.

Health and safety at work

If you're an employee or an agency-worker and you tell your employer you’re pregnant, they must carry out a risk assessment to establish if there are any health and safety risks to you or your unborn baby. If health and safety risks are identified your employer must take action to avoid the risk – for example, remove the risk if possible or offer you alternative work.

If your employer refuses to carry out a risk assessment and you suffer a disadvantage as a result, you can complain about pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

Situations where you may be able to complain about pregnancy and maternity discrimination include:

  • you’re dismissed or forced to resign because you’re unable to do your job because of health and safety risks
  • you’re disciplined because you refuse to carry out a task which carries a risk to you or your unborn baby
  • your employer has identified a risk but is refusing to offer you suitable alternative work if the risk can’t be removed – if your employer can’t find alternative work you’re entitled to be suspended on full-pay.

If you’re dismissed because of your pregnancy

If you’re dismissed because of your pregnancy, including a pregnancy- related illness, or because you’ve just had a baby, it’s unlawful discrimination.

Depending on when you’re discriminated against, you may be able to complain about:

  • pregnancy and maternity discrimination, if it’s during the protected period
  • sex discrimination, if it happens outside the protected period.

The protected period is the specific period during which you’re protected against pregnancy and maternity discrimination. It starts when you become pregnant and ends when you go back to work after you’ve had your baby, if you're entitled to maternity leave. If you're not entitled to maternity leave, it ends two weeks after the end of the pregnancy.

In addition, you may also be able to claim unfair dismissal if you’re dismissed because you’re pregnant or have had a baby or because you've taken maternity leave. In this case the dismissal will be automatically unfair and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked for your employer.

If your employer pushes you to resign or you resign because your employer makes it very difficult for you to your job, you may be able to claim constructive unfair dismissal.

Example

You’ve just started a new job as a waitress. You were told you were doing a great job but three weeks in you found out you were pregnant and told your employer. The next day your employer dismissed you with a week’s notice saying it wasn’t working out. There was no other obvious reason for your dismissal other than the fact of your pregnancy.

This is likely to be pregnancy discrimination. Your employer can’t rely on the fact you're in your probationary period to avoid their responsibility under the Equality Act.

You could also claim unfair dismissal. If you’re dismissed because you’re pregnant the dismissal is automatically unfair and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked for your employer.

Next steps

Other useful information

Maternity Action

The Maternity Action website has advice for parents and employers about their rights and responsibilities.

You can also call the Maternity Rights Advice helpline for information about rights and entitlements during pregnancy, maternity leave and returning to work. 

Maternity Action
Advice Line: 0808 802 0029
Monday, Tuesday and Friday, 11am to 2pm, Thursday 3pm – 7pm
Office telephone: 020 7253 2288
www.maternityaction.org.uk
52-54 Featherstone Street
London
EC1Y 8RT

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website.

Acas

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides free and impartial information and advice on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

To talk to an adviser about your employment problem, call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.

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