Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace
If you have been discriminated against at work because you are pregnant then you may have certain claims against your employer and/or the person who has harassed you
Read our guide on pregnancy discrimination in the workplace below
What is pregnancy discrimination
If you are in work and are pregnant then you are afforded greater employment rights and protections.
One of the main rights that you have if you are pregnant is that your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you (i.e. treat you unfairly) because of this.
Discrimination generally occurs if you are subjected to some form of detriment because you are pregnant , such as if you are demoted, or there is a failure to promote you, or you are disciplined or dismissed because you are pregnant.
If you feel that you have been treated unfairly by your employer because you are pregnant then you have the right to make a complaint at work and, if necessary, to make a claim to the Employment Tribunal.
Examples of pregnancy discrimination
Below are some examples of situations in which you may be subject to pregnancy or maternity discrimination:
- If your employer demotes you or gives you a bad appraisal because you are pregnant
- If your employer fails to offer you training or promotion opportunities because you are pregnant
- If your employer makes you redundant because you are pregnant
- If you’re disciplined or dismissed because of an illness connected to your pregnancy
- If your employer dismisses you because you are pregnant
- If your employer fails to undertake a risk assessment relating to your pregnancy
Discrimination because you are taking time off work sick because of your pregnancy or because of your sickness record
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination occurs if an employer treats you(whether you’re a current employee or a job applicant) unfavourably because of an illness suffered as a result of your pregnancy.
Your employer is not permitted to take into account any pregnancy-related absences (during the “protected period”) for the purposes of attendance management, disciplining you or deciding to dismiss you.
Case study – Mulla v Enigma Fashiions UK Limited & anor
In the case of Mulla v Enigma Fashiions UK Limited & R Rajshakha ET/2601433/2016 the Employment Tribunal held that Ms Mulla had been discriminated against because of her pregnancy and was awarded £55,963.58 as compensation.
If you’re absent from work because of an illness suffered as a result of your pregnancy then you are entitled to receive sickness pay. It is important to note that you are not automatically entitled to be paid in full for the period of work that you’re absent from work because of a pregnancy-related illness and it will not be pregnancy and maternity discrimination or sex discrimination if you are not paid at your full rate. However, you should be paid at the same rate that you would have received whilst you are sick as you would have been paid had you not been absent for a pregnancy-related illness.
You’re pregnant and have been off work because of pregnancy complications since early in your pregnancy. Your employer has a sickness absence policy which states that you are allowed to take no more than 20 weeks’ continuous absence leave and that employees may be dismissed if they take more than this. This policy is applied regardless of sex. You take more than 20 weeks off because of your pregnancy-related illness and are dismissed. Your dismissal would be unfavourable treatment because of your pregnancy and would be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
Discrimination because you are taking time off work for ante-natal care
You are entitled to take a reasonable period of time off work to attend appointments for ante-natal care. If your employer refuses to let you take time off or submits you to any detriment because you are taking time off work to attend an ante-natal appointment then this is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 and the Employment Rights Act 1996.
A pregnant employee has booked time off to attend a medical appointment related to her pregnancy. Her employer insists this time must be made up through flexi-time arrangements or her pay will be reduced to reflect the time off. This is unlawful: a pregnant employee is under no obligation to make up time taken off for antenatal appointments and an employer cannot refuse paid time off to attend such classes.
If you’re the partner of the pregnant woman then you do not have an automatic right to take time off work to attend ante-natal appointments. However, your employer may choose to allow you to take the time off for this purpose or, alternatively, you can take unpaid leave or part of your holiday entitlement so you can do so.
Discrimination because you are undergoing IVF treatment
If you are subjected to a detriment or dismissed because you are undergoing IVF treatment then this may constitute sex discrimination – you should seek expert advice on this. Any detrimental treatment or dismissal after the transfer of the egg through the IVF treatment to you may constitute pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Speak to one of our expert employment solicitors about your case
If you think that you’ve been subjected to pregnancy discrimination in the workplace then call one of our expert employment solicitors for a free consultation to discuss a potential Employment Tribunal claim today
Applying for jobs whilst you are pregnant
You do not have to tell a prospective employer if you are pregnant.
It is unlawful for an employer to refuse to employ you simply because you are pregnant. If you inform the prospective employer that you are pregnant and you are then not offered the job (and suspect that this may be because you informed the employer of your pregnancy) then this may constitute pregnancy discrimination.
If you inform your employer that you are pregnant after you have been offered the job then you must not be subjected to any detriment or dismissed because of this. The withdrawal of a job offer because you are pregnant would constitute pregnancy discrimination
Action you can take if you think that you’re being discriminated against
If you think that you are being discriminated against because you are pregnant then you should take action as soon as possible. Below are some examples of what you can do:
- Inform your line manager that you believe that you are being discriminated against. Make sure that you put a complaint in writing (preferably by email so that there is a time and date stamp on the complaint and you can prove that it has been sent to the relevant person) and keep a copy. If you think that it is your line manager who is discriminating against you then make a complaint so someone else in a position of authority in your organisation.
- Make a formal complaint (known as a “grievance”) to your HR department and also keep a copy of this
- Obtain specialist advice from a qualified person – you can either consult a lawyer directly or make an appointment with the Citizens Advice Bureau to obtain initial advice
- Collect evidence of the incidents that you think are discriminatory. An important thing to do is to keep a diary of all of the incidents of discrimination that you think that you have suffered and to record exactly who was involved and what happened. Try and obtain any witness evidence that you can from colleagues who have seen or heard things. Keep any letters, emails, minutes of meetings etc. that you think are relevant.
Making an Employment Tribunal claim for pregnancy and maternity discrimination
If you want to make an Employment Tribunal claim for pregnancy discrimination then you must do the following:
- Make your claim within three months of the last date of discrimination (this is also known as the “limitation date”). The last date of discrimination can often be difficult to pinpoint so you must be extremely careful that you do not fall outside of the three-month period
- Ensure that your employer was aware that you were pregnant (or that there are sufficient facts which mean that your employer should have been aware that you were pregnant)
- Gather enough evidence to allow you to prove your case in the Tribunal – this includes both documentary evidence and, if applicable, witness evidence.
It’s important to note that (unlike, for example, unfair dismissal claims) you don’t need to have worked for your employer for any particular length of time to make a claim for pregnancy and maternity discrimination – you have the right to do this from “day one”.
What happens if you’re victimized for making a complaint of pregnancy discrimination?
If you do any of the acts listed below (known as a “protected act”) and are then subjected to any form of detriment or dismissal because you have done so then you may be able to make a claim for “victimization” under the Equality Act. A protected act can include:
- Making or threatening to make an informal or formal complaint about pregnancy discrimination within your organisation
- Helping a colleague to make a complaint or helping them with their Employment Tribunal claim regarding pregnancy discrimination
- Making or threatening to make an Employment Tribunal claim for pregnancy discrimination
Employment Tribunal cases involving pregnancy discrimination
- Sisk v Department for Work and Pensions – employee who had her position removed from while on maternity leave won a claim for discrimination and was awarded £13,200 as compensation for injury to her feelings (Employment Tribunal judgment here, or read our analysis of the case)
- Freear v Vossloh Cogifer UK Ltd 1800747/2016 – employee who was threatened with a disciplinary after making her employer aware of the fact that she was pregnant won a claim for discrimination and was awarded £43,735.09 in compensation (Employment Tribunal judgment here, or read our analysis of the case)
- Onigbanjo v London Borough of Croydon 2301468/2016 – the Employment Tribunal held that a failure to carry out a risk assessment had discriminated against the employee because she was pregnant (Employment Tribunal judgment here, or read our analysis of the case)
- Doyle v Associated Training Solutions Ltd 2405460/2016 – the Employment Tribunal held that a female employee’s dismissal was because of the fact that she was pregnant and that she intended to take a period of maternity leave (Employment Tribunal judgment here, or read our analysis of the case)
- Hale v Dentons UKMEA Legal Services ET/2200450/2017 – the Employment Tribunal held that a female employee who was selected for redundancy and dismissed was discriminated against, coming to the conclusion that she was selected because it would be easier to dismiss her (Employment Tribunal judgment here, or read our analysis of the case)
- Ginger v Department for Work and Pensions 3401940/2015 – the Employment Tribunal held that the refusal to allow an employee to take a further period of time off work for IVF treatment constituted direct sex discrimination (Employment Tribunal judgment here, or read our analysis of the case)
- Deol v Sonic Laboratories Ltd 3323774/2016 – the Employment Tribunal held that a pregnant employee’s dismissal was because she was pregnant or on maternity leave (Employment Tribunal judgment here, or read our analysis of the case)
- Mrs A Baszkowska v Mr Zbigniew Godzisz – ET/2602065/2019 – the Employment Tribunal held that an employee’s disclosure that she was pregnant led to a change in attitude by the employer towards the employee, and that this then resulted in the employee being ignored whilst on maternity leave (Employment Tribunal judgment here, or read our analysis of the case)