Contact Law blog

Discrimination against pregnant women still alive in the workplace

Women are still being discriminated against at work because they are pregnant or on maternity leave, say campaigners and employment solicitors.

The discrimination means they are either harassed or pressured into resigning from their job, or they are selected for redundancy. Many employers resort to this tactic and many get away with it, as these cases often go unchallenged because women in low-paid jobs cannot afford legal advice.

The case of Danniella McClain, as reported in the Guardian, is an example of a rare success story of a woman who has successfully challenged her employer’s discrimination.

McClain became pregnant in September 2008 and made the decision to have the baby and raise it as a single parent. She felt she could make this decision because she was employed in a secure job at the London estate agents Hogarth. However, when she informed her boss, Alun Dufoo, of her pregnancy, his reaction was one of “deep shock” and obvious displeasure.

“He didn’t smile. He didn’t say congratulations” McClain recalls.

A few days later she put her request for maternity leave in writing and left it on his desk. After reading it, he told her that her role was redundant and he was giving her a months’ notice.

Unfortunately, McClain’s experience is not unusual. Instead of enjoying the first few months of pregnancy, working women instead often experience high stress levels and uncertainty as their employers react badly to the news. Alternatively some employers wait until the employee is on maternity leave, and then make her redundant.

There is a certain unspoken level of acceptance of discrimination against pregnant women amongst employers. Some have even spoken publically about it, including Lord Sugar.

Simon Murray, chairman of the commodities trading company Glencore, summed up the feeling when he said: “Pregnant ladies have nine months off. Do you think that means . . . what I’m absolutely desperate to have is young women who are about to get married in my company, and that I really need them on board because I know they’re going to get pregnant and they’re going to go off for nine months?”

However, employers fail to consider the devastating effect redundancy or being forced out of a job can have on the pregnant employee or new mother. McClain lost her security and independence, she had to go on benefits, and she had to try and find a new job. She has not yet been successful in her search for employment.

McClain won her claim against Dufoo (not the company, as it had gone into liquidation during the tribunal) and was awarded £21,925.20 in compensation for sex discrimination. She has not yet received anything, as Dufoo is planning to appeal.

Related Links:

Read more on the story (Guardian)
Find out about your right maternity leave and pay (Contact Law)
Find local employment law solicitors throughout the UK (Contact Law)

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