Mother and baby

During pregnancy - Overview

What is unlawful pregnancy and maternity discrimination during pregnancy?

  • It is unlawful pregnancy discrimination if your employer treats you unfavourably:
    • because you are pregnant
    • for a reason related to your pregnancy, or
    • because you are off work with illness related to your pregnancy.
  • It is unlawful maternity discrimination if your employer treats you unfavourably because you are about to go on maternity leave.

For details of employment status and the rights of different types of workers see: For the rights of agency workers see:

Who is protected from pregnancy discrimination?

  • All employees, casual workers, agency workers, freelancers and self-employed women (who are pregnant) are protected from pregnancy discrimination from the first day of their employment.
  • You are also protected when you are applying for a job or attending an interview. Employers are legally required not take into account the fact that you are pregnant, or might become pregnant when making recruitment decisions.

In what situations is pregnancy and maternity discrimination unlawful?

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is unlawful in the following situations:

  • Access to work related benefits and services; you are entitled to all contractual benefits during maternity leave, except pay.
  • Access to training and promotion.
  • Dismissal.
  • Any other disadvantage.

When are you protected from pregnancy discrimination?

For employees entitled to statutory maternity leave, the protection from pregnancy discrimination lasts from the beginning of your pregnancy until the end of your additional maternity leave entitlement, or when you return to work. You are protected from pregnancy discrimination as soon as your employer knows, believes or suspects that you are pregnant. You do not have to tell your employer you are pregnant until 15 weeks before the baby is due to be born. If you are not an entitled to maternity leave, you are protected from when your employer or prospective employer is aware of your pregnancy until two weeks after the end of your pregnancy. This is called the protected period.

Factory workers are prohibited from working for four weeks after giving birth regardless of whether they are entitled to maternity leave. For factory workers not entitled to maternity leave the first two weeks of that period will fall within the ‘protected period’ and they will be protected from pregnancy discrimination. Unfavourable treatment after the ‘protected period’ up to the end of their compulsory four-week absence is likely to be pregnancy and maternity or sex discrimination.

If you do not tell your employer you are pregnant, you will not be able to ask for time off for antenatal appointments or to ask your employer to look at the original risk assessment for your job, to identify if there is anything else your employer needs to do to make sure either you or your baby are not exposed to risk. You will also not be protected from being dismissed or disciplined if you take time off for pregnancy related illness. 

What is unfavourable treatment?

Unfavourable treatment is where you are treated badly or poorly (unfavourably is the legal term) because of your pregnancy or pregnancy related illness or because you want to take maternity leave.

Your rights during pregnancy

You must not be treated unfavourably for any of the following reasons;

  • You are temporarily unable to do the job for which you are employed whether permanently or on a fixed-term contract[CP4] ; because of your pregnancy.
  • You are temporarily unable to work because to do so would be a breach of health and safety regulations.
  • There are costs to the business of covering your work.
  • You are absent due to pregnancy related illness.
  • You cannot attend a disciplinary hearing due to morning sickness or other pregnancy-related conditions.
  • Your performance at work is affected by morning sickness or other pregnancy-related conditions.

An employer will be acting unlawfully if, because of your pregnancy, or pregnancy related illness they:

  • Dismiss you.
  • Refuse to recruit you because you are pregnant or on maternity leave.
  • Refuse to allow you to take reasonable paid time off to attend antenatal appointments.
  • Criticise you for taking time off to attend antenatal appointments.
  • Fail to protect your health and safety where there are any risks //
  • Change or remove your job responsibilities unless:
    • (i) it is necessary for health and safety reasons
    • (ii) you agree, or
    • (iii) to arrange cover just before your maternity leave.
  • Discipline you or treat you badly because of pregnancy related illness.
  • Exclude you from business trips or refuse to allow you to travel, when it is still safe.
  • Refuse to let you have the same training opportunities as other employees.
  • Do not consider you for promotion.
  • Deny you a pay rise or bonus.
  • Treat you unfavourably in another way, for example by ignoring you, or making hurtful comments about your pregnancy or maternity leave.

Other relevant legal provisions include protection from:

  • Direct sex discrimination, which is where you are treated less favourably than a man is or would be because you are a woman (not because you are pregnant).
  • Indirect sex discrimination which is where an employer applies a provision, criterion or practice to both women and men that puts women at a disadvantage compared to men and is not necessary for the business.
  • Victimisation which is where you are disadvantaged because you have made a complaint of discrimination.
  • Protection from a detriment (that is a disadvantage) which is where you are disadvantaged because of your pregnancy, maternity leave or other type of family leave.
  • Automatic unfair dismissal which is where an employee is dismissed because she is pregnant or is taking, will take, or has taken a type of family leave. The usual rule that an employee has to have two years' employment before they can claim unfair dismissal does not apply to automatically unfair dismissals. For more information on unfair dismissal:

Last updated: 17 Jun 2016