During pregnancy | Bullying or harassment and protection for your partner

The Equality Act says that protection from pregnancy discrimination is only for women who are pregnant. However, European law says that a person can be protected from associative discrimination. That is when a person is treated less favourably because of their association with a person with a particular characteristic that is protected from discrimination by law, for example where they are treated less favourably because they are caring for their disabled child. It is not clear whether this would apply in the case of pregnancy discrimination but it may do. If an employer takes a partner’s responsibilities away in these circumstances it may also be unlawful sex discrimination if they would not have treated a woman in the same way. Because the law is not clear on this point your partner should take legal advice if they are treated badly because of your pregnancy or because they are intending to take shared parental leave.

If your partner is treated badly or disadvantaged because you are pregnant, for example by missing out on promotion, this may be discrimination because of their relationship (that is association) with you, as a pregnant woman. It would also be unlawful to treat a partner badly for taking (or because the employer thinks s/he is going to take) shared parental leave. Because the law is not clear on this point your partner should take legal advice if s/he is treated badly because of your pregnancy or because s/he is intending to take shared parental leave.

If you are being treated badly, such as not being consulted about work or not invited to meetings, and the reason is because of your pregnancy, then this is unlawful pregnancy discrimination. Have a meeting with your manager to ask him/her why you have not been invited to meetings, say how it is affecting you and how it is making it difficult for you to do your job.

If an informal discussion does not resolve the issues, you could:

  • Ask your union representative to raise your concerns with your employer.
  • Raise your concerns informally with human resources.
  • Write or email to your manager or human resources explaining your concerns and setting out what you would like to happen.
  • Refer your employer to the Equality and Human Rights Commission or Maternity Action website so they can check out their obligations to you.
  • Speak to the Health and Safety Executive if you are concerned about your employer’s failure to comply with their health and safety obligations.
  • Raise a formal grievance in writing.
  • Seek free advice from Maternity Action or Working Families.
  • Ask a lawyer to write to your employer. This should be a last resort.
  • Apply to ACAS for early conciliation.

Your employer must take all reasonable steps to make sure that you do not experience any unfavourable treatment because of your pregnancy. After you have raised your concerns with a manager or human resources department, your employer should involve investigate what has happened and take action to prevent future harassment.  If your employer does not take any action, you have to decide whether to make a formal grievance and if that does not resolve the situation, decide  whether you wish to make a claim of discrimination to an Employment Tribunal.  If your health has been affected you should see your doctor.

It may be pregnancy discrimination if colleagues make jokes about your pregnancy and this creates a negative or intimidating atmosphere which you find upsetting. Tell your colleagues how their jokes make you feel, and ask them to stop making jokes about you, or if you find that difficult, speak to your manager or human resources about the situation, and ask them to speak to your colleagues on your behalf.  

Politely ask your colleague not to touch your stomach and explain that it makes you feel uncomfortable. It is better coming directly from you, but if you find it difficult to speak directly to your colleague, then talk to your manager about the situation. 

Last updated: 08 Jul 2016