Published: 22 Mar 2016

Three in four working mothers say they’ve experienced pregnancy and maternity discrimination

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is today calling for urgent action to be taken as new research suggests more than three quarters of pregnant women and new mothers - the equivalent of 390,000 women across Britain and 17,000 in Wales - experience negative and potentially discriminatory treatment at work each year.

The Commission is today publishing wide-ranging proposals for change, including ensuring women have proper access to legal redress, as it publishes its final research report today on experiences of pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work. 

The comprehensive GB-wide research (with Wales-specific findings), was carried out in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It finds that despite 77% of working mothers in Britain reporting potentially discriminatory or negative experiences, only around a quarter (28%) raised the issue with their employer, only 3% went through their employer’s internal grievance procedure, and less than 1% pursued a claim to the employment tribunal.  

The survey of more than 3,000 mothers and 3,000 employers shows a range of reasons for this including the financial cost of pursuing a claim, fear of negative repercussions at work, lack of information about their rights, and stress and tiredness. Since the introduction in 2013 of tribunal fees of up to £1,200, the number of sex discrimination cases has dropped by 76% and pregnancy-related cases fell by 50%*

The research also reveals the majority of employers (70%) thought a woman should declare at recruitment stage if they were pregnant and a quarter thought that it was reasonable to ask women of childbearing age at interview about their plans to have children.

Research findings specific to Wales include that:

  • 87% of Welsh employers feel it is in the best interests of organisations to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave, but: 

  • 71% of mothers surveyed in Wales reported negative or possibly discriminatory experiences

  • 46% of mothers surveyed in Wales reported a negative impact on their career(opportunity, status, job security)

  • 36% of mothers in Wales who would have liked a flexible working practice but did not make a request said this was because they feared it would be viewed negatively by their employer, and

  •  a higher proportion of establishments in Wales (10%) offered no flexible working practices; compared to England (4%) and Scotland (3%).

The Commission is today calling for the UK Government to:

  • take more effective steps to prevent employers asking during the recruitment process about a woman’s pregnancy or about her intention to have children

  • explore the feasibility of a collective insurance scheme to support small and medium sized employers in providing enhanced pay and cover for maternity leave, based on a successful model used in Denmark

  • make changes to the employment tribunal fee system to ensure that fees are not a barrier to accessing justice for pregnant women and new mothers, and

  • consider increasing from three to six months the time limit for a woman to bring an employment tribunal case involving pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

Ann Beynon, Commissioner for Wales, Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'These findings cannot be ignored. They show the true scale of the discrimination that working mothers face in Wales and across Britain. We are calling on the UK Government to take urgent action to tackle the barriers that pregnant women and mothers face in accessing justice.  Alongside recommendations to the UK Government, we are calling on the Welsh Government to identify effective interventions  that enable employers to manage and make best use of the talent and experience of pregnant women and new mothers and to ensure that employers are aware of and comply with their legal obligations.  Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is bad for individuals, it is bad for organisations and it is bad for the welsh economy. We want this report to be a call to action. Changes must be made.'

The new GB-wide findings, from the final phase of the Commission’s research also show: 

  • Three quarters of the mothers who felt forced to leave their jobs reported more than 10 different types of negative experiences.
  • Half of mothers in Britain (46% in Wales) described a negative impact on their career, work status or job security including not being informed about promotion opportunities, being denied training opportunities, being threatened with dismissal or put under pressure to hand in their notice which, if scaled up to the general population, could affect 210,000 mothers a year.
  • 4% of mothers reported they left their job as a result of health and safety risks which were not resolved; if scaled up to the general population this could affect 21,000 mothers a year.
  • 67% of employers had not sought information or guidance on employment issues relating to pregnancy and maternity and over half (55%) provided no guidelines, training or support to managers on managing pregnancy and maternity.  
  • Only 4% of employers had sought information on issues such as time off for antenatal appointments or dealing with flexible working requests.  However, 10% of the mothers surveyed experienced problems when they needed time off for antenatal appointments and 51% experienced negative consequences after approval of a flexible working request.  

Notes to editors

For more information on the #worksforme campaign visit: www.equalityhumanrights.com/worksforme

Read the full research report 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission commissioned the research in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The research company IFF Research Ltd interviewed 3,254 mothers with a child under 2 years old and 3,034 workplaces across the UK in the largest ever survey of its kind.

* Ministry of Justice (2015) Tribunal Statistics CSV: July to September 2015

Press contact details

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0161 829 8102