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Working mothers and discrimination at work

Working mother with girl

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With more than a quarter of mothers feeling discriminated against at work, it seems that many employers are still living in the dark ages and women are continuing to feel frustrated by the lack of opportunities following maternity leave.

Out of 2,000 women who were questioned for a survey by law firm Slater and Gordon, a third of women found it ‘impossible’ to climb the ladder after returning to work, while 54 per cent urged their employer to do more to actively support working mums and 31 per cent felt they were treated badly during their maternity leave.

Just to make things even more difficult for women, new legal changes have recently come into force meaning that employees will now have to pay £1,200 to take their bosses to employment tribunal if they want to sue them for unfair dismissal or discrimination.

‘My role was seen as more junior’

Often discrimination at work can take on a number of subtle changes that can be hard to pinpoint, as Holly, aged 32 years-old discovered when she had her first baby. “I found that when I returned to work with reduced hours in order to pick up my child from nursery it was all too noticeable that my role was seen as more junior.

“I was left out of team meetings, I had to wait to be given jobs – whereas beforehand I was allowed to develop my own workload, I wasn’t given proper training on the new system on my return and felt that I was a burden when I had to leave on time. From feeling quite high up on the team before I left for maternity leave, the change in atmosphere and work given to me upon my return was quite noticeably different and my appraisals were never as positive. In the end I left and set up my own business, partly because I was put off from starting off a long discrimination process and wasn’t quite sure if I had a leg to stand on.”

Discrimination laws

The law is there to protect you against sex discrimination when it comes to being treated less favourably on the grounds of your pregnancy or maternity leave (Sex Discrimination Act 1975). You are also protected from unfair dismissal and treatment by the Employment Rights Act 1996 and Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999.

Ultimately, it’s illegal to sack a woman because she is pregnant or has taken maternity leave. But when it comes to more subtle discrimination when you return to work, there is no need to suffer in silence and it’s important to take action as quickly as possible.

Tell your manager (or someone higher up if it’s your manager who is discriminating against you) what is happening and put it all in writing, making sure you keep a copy. You may also want to talk to a trade union for some advice on how to stop the discrimination.

Collect any evidence you have and record a diary of incidents or conversations that took place, as well as any witnesses or similar experiences shared by colleagues.

Your rights

• You have the right to 52 weeks’ maternity leave with the right to return to work.

• You are entitled to all of your contractual terms and conditions during maternity leave, apart from your pay.

• You have the right to be offered a suitable vacancy or role if you are made redundant during maternity leave.

• You have the right to ask for flexible work.

• You are protected against unfair treatment, unfair dismissal and sex discrimination due to your pregnancy, birth or maternity leave.

Employers: supporting working mothers

It’s worth understanding that just because an employer isn’t working the same hours following maternity leave that it doesn’t mean that she will be any less productive. In fact many women say they work harder when they return to work as they feel they have more to prove in the workplace and have to get through their workload in a more organised way.

It also doesn’t matter how small your business is – you still have a legal obligation to your staff to support women throughout their pregnancy and following maternity leave and to understand women’s rights when it comes to flexible working and fair treatment at work.

rights of working parents

Regardless of how short a time a woman has worked for you, they are also still entitled to 26 weeks ordinary maternity leave. They can choose to take a further 26 weeks additional maternity leave, which will run straight on from the ordinary leave making it up to 52 weeks in total (which will normally be unpaid unless your company has other policies in place).

In addition, employers can help women re-build their career confidence after having a baby by:

• Involving them in the management of their own maternity cover arrangements.

• Agreeing an effective handover plan and meeting to decide how the role will be developed when she returns to work.

• Being open to requests for flexible working.

• Offering regular performance reviews following their return to work to help them feel engaged and reassured that they are a strong part of the team.

More information

• Read more about discrimination during pregnancy or following maternity leave on the Advice Guide website from the Citizens Advice Bureau.




2 Responses to “Working mothers and discrimination at work”

  1. Susan Bels

    I am working in an office, for the same company for more then 5 years, I had a Baby in 2012 and went on 3 months maternity leave, came back and everything was fine, working flexible hours was no problem and everyone was very understanding and accommodating. Last year April I got a new Boss and I got pregnant again, due to health problems I had to see the doctor quite frequently, every 2 weeks or so. I lost the Baby in October and I took some time off to cope with things.
    The first thing my new Boss wanted was a sick note, to cover for the leave I took.
    I always tell her when I need to leave early to look after my children (I have 2 boys, 1 at school and 1 at nursery). Over Christmas I asked her for some personal time to go to their nativity plays. It was okay for the one, but not for the other, as we had an audit at that time. It was disappointing, but I deal with it. Today I asked her again to leave 1 hour earlier tomorrow as it is my sons 6th birthday and she said no and I should stop asking for time off for birthdays and such, instead I should take half a day leave. I have always worked my minimum weekly hours and if I take personal time I make up for it on another occasion.
    I strongly believe my Boss is getting impatient now, due to all this time I had off last year and now she is trying to put her foot down.
    I was never refused before by my former Boss and perhaps I have been ‘pampered’ a little bit, however with the refusal today and the nature in which I was approached I now feel very uncomfortable asking for any extra time off, which I will have to, because there are times I have to leave work earlier to pick up my son from school.
    Am I being unreasonable to ask for it?
    Kind regards

  2. Tracey

    I’m requiring information regarding a work relayed problem I,m having at the moment
    I work night shifts in a care environment and my mother cares for my 5 year old daughter during my working hours 9 pm till 7 am unfortunately a family emergency has occurred due to no fault of my mother as my uncle is a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy and has taken ill today my mum is his next of kin and therefore has had to travel to his home place 5 hours away and unable to carry out childcare duties so I rang my work place and same de to family emergency and no childcare I am unable to do my contracted shift,
    I am upset as I was told ” I have had my working rota for 3 weeks so I should of had childcare sorted your not ill yourself so you need to arrange childcare and do your shift else this will be taken further”
    I’m a single working mum have no other person who I am able to leave my daughter with wanted advice to where I stand on this as there is no way I can work this shift
    I am expecting a call from higher management member.


About Julia Faulks

About Julia Faulks

Julia Faulks is a content editor and journalist with 11 years' experience writing and subbing editorial for a number of publications. Now a mother herself, she has turned her hand to writing content for parents as well as young people and likes nothing more than turning long and complicated copy into something that everyone can understand.

Website: Julia Faulks

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