It is unlawful to discriminate against someone, or treat them unfairly, because of pregnancy or maternity as outlined in the Equality Act of 2010. Employers should have clear policies to prevent unfair treatment and ACAS has published guidance for employers on how to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work.
You must not discriminate against someone you employ, or are considering employing, because of:
- their pregnancy
- an illness related to their pregnancy, including related time off
- maternity pay or leave they take, or plan to take
This applies regardless of how long the person has been employed and covers employees and workers and some self employed people. In the letter case seek advice from an employment lawyer as this is a complex area.
The person could take their case to an employment tribunal if they believe they’ve been discriminated against because of pregnancy and maternity.
Discrimination would include dismissal, not offering a job, changing pay or other terms of employment, forcing someone to work when they are on maternity leave, not allowing a breast feeding mother to return to work.
There are two main types of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The first is unfavourable treatment where for example a person cannot be subjected to unfair treatment because of pregnancy or maternity or suffer disadvantage through policies or procedures. The second is victimisation when an employee suffers disadvantage, damage, harm or loss. Examples being if making an allegation of discrimination or raising a grievance concerning equality or discrimination. The law terms this to be “detriment”.
Included in the ACAS recommendations are developing policy that outlines the responsibilities and rights of pregnant employees and those on maternity leave and these should included assurances that they will not be dismissed or made redundant as a result. Employers should also make reasonable adjustments to protect the health and safety of a pregnant employee or a new mother returning from maternity leave. In addition employers should make sure that anyone on maternity leave is made aware of all promotion and training opportunities.
Employers needing advice and support with maternity or paternity policy should refer to the ACAS guidelines and consult an employment lawyer.