Men and women bosses both discriminate over maternity leave fears

New research shows that male and female bosses both have the same reservations about hiring female staff and them taking maternity leave.

There is little difference between male and female bosses when it comes to maternity leave discrimination in the workplace.

New figures from Worksome, a business consultant matchmaking platform, shows that a quarter of male business leaders and 21% of female business leaders admit to rejecting female candidates for jobs who ‘appear’ to be of maternity age – even when they’re the right person for the role.

What’s even more worrying is the extent to which businesses are breaking employment law to discriminate against women. A substantial 44 per cent of business leaders said they had passed up on female candidates who were not pregnant but were concerned these women were likely to fall pregnant in future.

Breaking employment law

Current UK employment law states:

“It is against the law to treat someone less favourably than someone else because of a particular characteristic such as religion, sex, gender reassignment or age. It is also illegal to ask candidates whether they ‘have children or plan to have children’.”

Digging further into the statistics, 21% of male and female business leaders said they had rejected female candidates because their business couldn’t handle the prospect of women coming in and out of maternity leave. Meanwhile, 10% of business leaders said they openly ask female candidates about their plans to have children, compared with 5% of female business leaders.

Mathias Linneman, CCO and co-founder of Worksome, said: “This behaviour is harmful to all women in the workforce: even those who may have no interest in ever having children are facing prejudice and discrimination due to their gender.

“With the proper support, negotiating maternity leave needn’t be a challenge. Businesses should feel able to hire the best candidate, regardless of who they are, and not worry that they are going to be ‘caught out’ by maternity leave at a later date.”

Top tips for avoiding pregnancy discrimination claims

No matter who you employ, it’s best to manage your staff so that you can avoid problems down the line.

Daxa Shah is an employment law consultant with the ELAS Group. She has put together her top tips for employers to avoid a discrimination claim and prevent issues arising if an employee becomes pregnant.

Deal with any performance issues as soon as they arise

If they are left and suddenly raised when an employee announces a pregnancy – no matter how genuine the performance issues are – it will automatically look as though they are being raised due to the pregnancy rather than the initial concerns.

Ensure swift risk assessments

When an employee notifies you that they are pregnant you are required to undertake a risk assessment to ensure that they have safe working conditions. This should be done as soon as possible and any necessary adjustments made. Intermittent risk assessments can be carried out as necessary throughout the pregnancy.

Basic minimum rights

Make sure you comply with basic minimum rights such as allowing time off for antenatal appointments and being supportive to women who suffer really bad pregnancies. Let’s face it – pregnancy is not a nice time for most and having the additional stress of an employer who violates their basic employment rights will only make things worse.

Document performance reviews and/or any issues

If any action needs to be taken against an employee with regards to their conduct or performance then its better if you can show evidence that the decision to discipline or dismiss them is purely due to their performance and conduct rather than the fact that they are pregnant.

When sickness strikes

If any sickness does occur during the pregnancy and the employee is being brought into a disciplinary hearing for this i.e. if their Bradford factor triggers it or the absence is unacceptable (some do take advantage) then any illness pertaining to their pregnancy should be discounted and not considered for absence reasons.

Investigate properly

It’s very important to carry out a thorough investigation prior to any disciplinary meeting, probation review or employment review in order to avoid any doubt. Where there are any potentially contentious issues involved we recommend taking the longer procedure of the process as best practice, even if employees are under the two year service mark where they are ineligible to make a claim.

If there are any issues pertaining to discrimination then the employee will have the right to claim automatic unfair dismissal as well as discrimination, regardless of length of service.

If cases are settled prior to a tribunal then the business will always seek to be protected under a settlement agreement, which will have non-disclosure clauses. This is always part and parcel of any settlement agreement and, unfortunately, usually causes some frustration with employees who can feel that justice has not been served.

If an employee feels very strongly about how they have been treated, they may feel that the only way for justice is to see the case all the way to tribunal. This all comes down to personal choice for the employee, how strongly they feel about the issue and how important it is to them.

A final note under Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Rights Act 1999:

Women on maternity leave have the right to return to the same job when they come back from maternity leave.

If you are looking to make redundancies, woman who are pregnant or on maternity leave are given priority during any selection process.

Further reading on maternity leave

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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Maternity Leave

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