Recent tribunal cases have highlighted that employers must remain vigilant in keeping up to date with their policies and practices to continue to promote equality for women throughout their employment.
Understanding maternity discrimination
Maternity discrimination occurs when a pregnant woman or new mother faces unfavourable treatment in the workplace due to her pregnancy or maternity leave. This can manifest in various forms, including:
- Unfair dismissal or redundancy during or after pregnancy
- Being denied opportunities for promotion
- Having an unsupportive work environment
- Being treated differently to their colleagues whilst on maternity leave
Recent tribunal cases of maternity discrimination serve as critical reminders of the challenges that pregnant employees and new mothers continue to face. Employers can learn from these examples to create more equitable work environments. Here are a few notable cases:
Failure to adequately consult – In this case the tribunal held that redundancy consultation carried out with a director while she was on maternity leave was a sham. It noted that there was a stark difference between how she was treated and how colleagues who were working were treated, stating that the only explanation for this difference was that she was on maternity leave.
Refusing flexible working – The tribunal concluded that the employer’s refusal of a flexible working request following their employee’s return from maternity leave amounted to indirect discrimination. The tribunal ruled in favour of the employee, emphasising the need for proper consideration of, and investigation into, the viability of flexible working requests.
Failure to provide company updates – In this case the tribunal held that an office worker, who was excluded from a company-wide ‘free day off’, then not sent job adverts whilst on maternity leave was discriminated against.
What lessons can employers take from this?
Whilst situations can vary from company to company, there are simple steps an employer can take to avoid falling foul of employment legislation:
- Ensure that promotions and demotions are based on merit rather than a woman’s maternity status
- Proactively support employees in managing their work-life balance, especially during and after maternity leave
- Create and communicate comprehensive maternity and paternity policies that outline the latest employees’ rights, including protection from discrimination and harassment
- Consider offering training for all employees, managers, and HR staff to increase awareness of maternity discrimination issues and the legal consequences
- Consider implementing flexible working options, such as remote working or adjusted hours, to accommodate employees during and after maternity leave
- Foster a culture of inclusivity that values diversity and acknowledges the unique challenges that pregnant employees and new mothers face.
As well as avoiding tribunals, taking steps to ensure company practices are inclusive, will positively impact employee engagement and retention – not simply for those staff affected but for staff who want to work for an ’employer of choice’.