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Pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work

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. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the employment tribunal. You also have other rights under employment law if you’re pregnant - for example, the right not to be unfairly dismissed.

Read this page to find out more about pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work.

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 says you’ve been treated unfavourably. To show unfavourable treatment, you don't have to compare your situation to someone else’s - for example a man or someone who's not pregnant. All you need to show is that you were treated unfavourably.

When are you protected against pregnancy and maternity discrimination?

An employer mustn’t discriminate against you because:

  • you’re pregnant, or
  • of a pregnancy-related illness.

Once you’ve had your baby, it’s also unlawful to discriminate against you for one of these reasons:

  • you’re on maternity leave
  • you’ve been on maternity leave
  • you’ve tried to take maternity leave which you’re entitled to.

How long are you protected against pregnancy and maternity discrimination?

The protection against pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work lasts for a specific period of time which is called the protected period. The protected period begins when you become pregnant.

If you have the right to maternity leave, the protected period ends when your maternity leave ends or when you return to work, if this is earlier. If you don’t have the right to maternity leave, the protected period ends two weeks after your child was born.

If you’re treated unfavourably outside the protected period because you’ve been pregnant or have had a baby, you could still be protected against discrimination because of your sex.

If you’re breastfeeding

Your employer doesn’t have to allow you to take time off to breastfeed. But they should try to accommodate you if you want to keep breastfeeding after you return to work. In particular, if your employer says you can’t express milk at work or change your working patterns so you can breastfeed outside the workplace, you may be able to complain about unlawful sex discrimination.

Example

You're GP has advised you to continue breastfeeding your baby to help with his eczema. You've asked your employer to work flexible hours after your maternity leave so you can do this. If your employer refuses to allow you to change your working hours, it may be indirect sex discrimination unless your employer can justify their decision.

Examples of unfavourable treatment

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

  • you're suspended from work by your employer for health and safety reasons and don't receive full pay
  • you're dismissed because your employer says they can't afford to pay you statutory maternity pay
  • you can't go to a disciplinary meeting due to a pregnancy-related illness and your employer refuses to re-arrange the meeting
  • you're disciplined for having performance issues due to a pregnancy-related illness
  • your employer fails to carry out a health and safety risk assessment, forcing you to resign
  • your employer demotes or dismisses you, or stops you from having training or promotion opportunities, because you're pregnant or on maternity leave
  • your employer refuses to give you time off for antenatal care or to give you your normal pay when you attend antenatal appointments
  • you’re made redundant during your maternity leave and there isn't a genuine redundancy situation or you're selected because you're pregnant
  • you’re turned down for a job when the employer learns you’re pregnant.

Other maternity rights

Most pregnant employees have other important rights under employment law in addition to the right not to be discriminated against in the Equality Act.  

These rights are called maternity rights and include the right to:

  • take time off work for antenatal care - your employer must give you reasonable time off work to attend antenatal appointments and you’re entitled to receive your normal pay you during this time
  • maternity leave - this includes ordinary and additional maternity leave
  • maternity pay - this can be statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance, if you don't have enough length of service to be entitled to statutory maternity pay
  • health and safety protection - your employer must carry out a health and safety risk assessment if you’re pregnant
  • have your pay and conditions maintained during your maternity leave
  • return to your job after ordinary maternity leave or a similar job after additional maternity leave.

If your employer doesn’t respect your maternity rights, they’re breaking the law and you can take action against them. This includes making a claim in the employment tribunal.

Often you’ll be able to complain about unlawful discrimination as well when an employer breaches your maternity rights.

Next steps

Other useful information

Maternity Action

Employees and employers can contact Maternity Action for more information about their rights and responsibilities. You can call a helpline that gives advice and information about rights and entitlements during pregnancy, maternity leave and returning to work. There are also free factsheets you can download from their website.

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 at

Acas

Acas works with both employers and employees to solve workplace problems.

You can phone the Acas helpline on: 0300 123 1100 and speak to an adviser about your employment problems. The helpline is open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

You can find useful information about how to sort out work-place problems on the Acas website at

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