Kate has over eight years of experience as an employment and personal injury legal executive. She runs LawCat, a legal explanations website.
Deciding to start a family is a big decision with many variables that need to be considered at different stages of the pregnancy and during your child’s early years. One of the key considerations that comes to mind early on in the process is usually your employment. There is no doubt that if you are a woman and you are working, becoming pregnant is going to have an impact on your employment, both in the short-term and likely in the long-term as well.
By law, UK employers offer maternity leave to their female employees who become pregnant. However, the consequences of having a baby can go beyond the actual pregnancy and far into the future. You and your employer will need to consider what will happen regarding your employment beyond your pregnancy and into your child’s early years. As many women who have children cannot return to work on the hours they worked prior to becoming pregnant and have to return to part-time hours.
This can cause a high level of concern, that falling pregnant will negatively impact your employment. You may worry that you will be penalized due to the fact that you require maternity leave and potentially part-time hours on your return. Could you potentially lose your employment as you are no longer able to fulfill the demands of your job due to shorter working hours? Will you still receive the same kinds of opportunities that you had prior to your pregnancy? Will your employer and/or co-workers consider that your job isn’t your number one priority anymore and treat you negatively because of this?
There are many fears that can spin out of control if you let them. This article will alleviate those fears by laying out the legal position and your rights when you become pregnant. While it is impossible to guarantee that your employer or co-workers will treat you fairly should you become pregnant, this article will outline the legal redress available to you if they fail to treat you fairly.
The Equality Act 2010 states that if a woman is treated unfavorably because she is pregnant or because she wants to take, or has taken, maternity leave, then it will be considered discrimination.
This is because the Courts state that the following characterizes are considered protected characteristics.
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
What this actually means is that if you are treated unfavorably because of one of the above reasons then you have been discriminated against, and legal redress is available to you.
So for the purpose of pregnancy, if you are dismissed because you are pregnant, denied opportunities in the workplace because you are pregnant, or treated in such a way to make your employment unbearable to you (this can include but is not limited to bullying) then you can make a claim under the Equality Act 2010.
Usually, to bring a claim against your employer you must have been employed for two years, however, for claims for discrimination, this is not necessary. If you attend a job interview and are asked questions about pregnancy, and you answer that you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant and you are denied employment because of this, then you may have a claim for discrimination, although you would have to have evidence that you were denied the employment because of this.
To prove discrimination, you must show that ‘but for’ your pregnancy you would not have been dismissed or received the treatment that you did. This can be difficult to prove in some instances, am dot can be difficult to know what counts as unfair treatment
What Counts as Unfair Treatment?
Unfavorable treatment can be difficult in some instances to identify.
Unfavorable Treatment Can Include:
- being selected for redundancy because of your pregnancy,
- being dismissed because of your pregnancy,
- being dismissed for the amount of leave you have to take for antenatal care.
- being refused training or promotion because of your pregnancy
- being dismissed because you have requested part-time hours after your child is born
- being denied health and safety measures to protect you during your pregnancy
- your workload being reduced to the point where you are being side-lined,
However unfavorable treatment can also be a little more subtle, and can include:
- Unpleasant comments from co-workers that go unaddressed (you must report these and give your employer an opportunity to address them)
While some behaviors can be hurtful and feel unfair they will not always legally count as unfair treatment and can include:
- A reduction in your take-home pay if you have reduced your hours
- Feelings of exclusion when your co-workers go out after work, but you cannot attend due to childcare limitations
- A reduction in your holiday entitlement if your hours are reduced.
- Any of the unfair treatment mentioned above if you have not made your employer aware of your pregnancy. You are only protected against discrimination once your employer has been made aware that you are pregnant.
Would You Tell Your Employer You Were Pregnant?
Do You Have to Tell Your Employer You Are Pregnant?
Many women struggle with knowing when to tell their employer that they are pregnant. Legally, you do not have to tell your employer about your pregnancy until the 15th week before your baby is due. It is good practice, however, to tell your employer much sooner as you may need to ask for action to protect your health and safety, or you may need to ask for time off for antenatal care.
Once your employer is aware that you are pregnant, they must consider the risks involved in your job and your workplace and take reasonable action to protect you. If you have concerns about your health and safety at work, then you should discuss it with your employer.
What to Do If You Have Concerns
The first thing you should always do when you have concerns is discuss them with your employer. Make your employer aware that you feel that their (or your co-workers) treatment of you has changed since you became pregnant and that you are worried about this. It may well be difficult to discuss this with them, but they cannot solve a problem if they are unaware of it. Even if you feel that they are aware of what they (or your co-workers) are doing you should still raise it with them.
Your first discussion should be an informal one, ask to speak to your employer or HR department and have a face to face chat to try and resolve any problems. Make a note of what you discussed and any plan of action and any deadlines for the plan, going forward. If this is unsuccessful you should then raise the issue formally, this means in writing. Write a polite but firm letter to your employer, lay out your concerns clearly and what you think would resolve the problems you are having. This will trigger the grievance procedure. Your employer's grievance procedure should be in your company manual or with your HR department.
If raising a grievance does not resolve the issue then you should consider your options and take legal advice.
You should now have an understanding of what your rights are should you become pregnant when working. You should understand that the law in the UK, in particular, the Equality Act lists pregnancy as a protected characteristic which means if you suffer unfavorable treatment you have access to legal redress. You should also have an understanding of the type of treatment that can be considered unfavorable. You should also now know what your first steps should be in trying to resolve any issues that arise because of your pregnancy and when to seek legal advice.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.