Better Protection for new and expectant mothers
In 2015 the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published joint findings on pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Overall, the findings were encouraging, in particular, they showed good evidence of employer attitudes towards, and the treatment of, new and expectant mothers had significantly improved over recent years. Conversely and somewhat surprisingly, the findings also highlighted that discrimination towards new and expectant mothers had actually increased since similar research was carried out by the Equal Opportunities Commission in 2005. Specifically, more mothers (and those who are expectant) are being made redundant or feel that they are being driven out of the work place.
The EHRC provided the Government with final recommendations, which included actions that should be taken to tackle the increasing discrimination against new and expectant mothers. The EHRC published the recommendations to the Government in March 2016, to which the Government responded by outlining the actions it would take. In light of their mandate to strive for equality, the Woman and Equalities Committee (the “Committee”) felt compelled to proceed with their own investigations into the EHRC findings. In August 2016 the Committee published a report which made the following recommendations:
- A duty for employers to conduct individual risk assessments for new and expectant mothers. The duty should arise when employers are informed that a woman who works for them is pregnant, has given birth in the past six months or is breastfeeding;
- The implementation of a system for employers that allows them to deal with concerns of new and expectant mothers who feel that their health and/or the health of their baby is being put at risk by their work;
- Additional rights and protections to be put in place to ensure that new and expectant mothers who are casual agency or zero-hours workers feel confident about challenging discriminatory behaviour;
- The right for casual agency and zero-hours workers to be paid for anytime taken off to attend antenatal appointments. This right should be available after a short qualifying period;
- Additional protection from redundancy for new and expectant mothers. A recommendation that the Government should implement a system similar to that in operation in Germany, whereby new and expectant mothers can only be made redundant in specified circumstances. Such protection would apply during pregnancy and maternity and for a further six months;
- Better and more accessible information for new and expectant mothers on their employment rights, alongside more training and support to be provided to health professionals involved in the care of new and expectant mothers.
Notably, the Committee commented that the Government should be committed to retaining current protections available to new and expectant mothers, but also confirm that they will be committed to enhancing such rights, even upon the UK’s departure from the European Union. The Committee has called for a statement to be provided to give new and expectant mothers reassurance during Brexit negotiations.
The Government published a response on 26 January 2017, with Business Minister Margot James describing the issue as a key priority and stating that the Government is “determined to tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination…a key part of that is making sure new and expectant mothers are supported and treated fairly by their employers.” The Government pledged that, in addition to the work currently being undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (which includes a complete review of its guidance for employers and workers, including pregnant women and new mothers, promoting guidance and targeting the worst performance sectors), the Government would continue to work with the EHRC and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) to identity and fill gaps in the provision of information to expectant and new mothers.
The Government also stated that the right to paid time off for antenatal appointments for expectant mothers who are causal agency or zero hours workers, should fall within the scope of the Taylor Review. This review was launched on 30 November 2016 and is wide ranging. It will consider employment practises and how these can be improved in light of the digital revolution and new economies which change the way in which people work.
In terms of reducing the levels of discrimination suffered by new and expectant mothers, the Committee considered that the Government’s response was rather vague. Arguably, this was not unfounded given that the response was “the Government will consider further and bring forward proposals to ensure that the protections in place for those who are pregnant or returning from maternity leave are sufficient.” The Committee has called upon the Government to provide more detail as to how this can be achieved.
In response to the call for the Government to ensure expectant and new mothers are better informed of their rights, the Government set out various initiatives such as the Start4life Information Service for Parents and the Maternity Transformation Programme. The Government did concede that the need to provide pregnant women and new mothers with quality information could be improved and has committed to reviewing information and available sources.
There were a considerable amount of recommendations from the Committee and likewise, responses from the Government. Over the coming months, the Government will launch a consultation on how to adhere to their commitments and strengthen the existing law.
In the meantime, organisations should ensure that all new and expectant mothers (and all employees in general) are protected from discrimination in the workplace. Likewise, employees should be fully aware of the rights and protections in which they can expect do enjoy.
If you would like advice on how to effectively prevent discrimination within your organisation, or how to deal with being discriminated against, please contact our employment team on 0345 070 6000.