Workplace Maternity Rules – Don’t Get Caught Out!

Posted on: September 5th, 2016



Whether you’re an employer or an employee, the rules surrounding maternity leave and returning to work after having a child can be confusing. We thought it would be helpful for both sides if we shared some common examples of incidents that trigger a discrimination case, as outlined by Personnel today.

With the Citizens Advice Bureau having reported a 58% increase in maternity leave enquiries over the past two years, here are the causes behind most pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims:

1. Using redundancy as an excuse to dismiss pregnant or new mothers

While pregnant employees and new mothers aren’t exempt from redundancy, using a false redundancy to dismiss them counts as unfair dismissal and direct discrimination. Employees in these situations have priority rights and must be given suitable alternative employment if available.

2. Inappropriate comments during pregnancy

Pregnant employees may make an employment tribunal claim if their line manager makes inappropriate comments regarding their pregnancy, including any inconvenience that it or her absence will cause.

3. Mishandling flexible working requests

Many employers receive requests from new mothers to return to work on a part-time basis. While employees have no automatic right to switch their working hours, an unjustified refusal in this situation could amount to indirect sex discrimination. Companies are legally required to handle flexible working requests from employees with at least 26 weeks’ service.

4. Health and Safety breaches

Employers may be at risk of a pregnancy and maternity discrimination claim if they don’t adhere to certain health and safety legislation, including conducting a risk assessment; altering working conditions or hours to avoid an identified risk; if this is not possible, offering suitable alternative work; if no alternative work is available, suspending the employee on full pay.

5. Penalising a sick pregnant woman

Pregnancy-related illness, such as morning sickness, does not allow the employer to treat a woman unfavourably because of performance issues, or take pregnancy-related absence into account to dismiss an employee based on their sickness absence.

6. Not providing adequate maternity leave pay

Unless stated in her contract, a women doesn’t have a legal right to continue receiving her full pay during maternity leave; however, all contractual benefits – except remuneration – must continue. Employers cannot be denied a pay rise they would have received if they weren’t on leave.

7. Not communicating during maternity leave

While on maternity leave, employees should be consulted over workplace matters such as reorganisations, pay rises, bonuses, internal vacancies and promotion opportunities. This requires ‘reasonable contact’ from their employer.

8. Failing to allow a mother to return to her previous job

It’s common for new mothers to return from leave to find that their job has completely changed, perhaps with a lower level of responsibility; but employees returning to work after ordinary maternity leave (26 weeks) have the right to return to their previous job. Those taking additional maternity leave also have this right, but if this isn’t possible they can return to another suitable job.

9. Not offering training opportunities

Employers returning from maternity leave should be offered the same training, development and promotional opportunities as their colleagues. She should be offered any missed training, delivered in a flexible way if it clashes with her childcare commitments.

10. Basing recruitment on family planning

Last but not least, under no circumstances should hirers ask job applicants about family plans. This includes asking candidates with children about their childcare arrangements, and pregnant women about their maternity plans. Applicants should be interviewed only on their ability to do the job in question.

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