Maternity in 2011 – Progress?

The 2010 Equality Act is the latest in a line of legislation to enshrine maternity rights in the workplace. However the first maternity rights appeared in legislation in the 1975 Employment Protection Right.

There is a comprehensive range of family friendly legislation such as maternity, paternity, adoption, parental leave, flexible working and emergency leave. Why is that even with all these mechanisms that we still a raft of tribunal claims citing breaches by employers, these claims can be as extreme as those of Lisa Needham from Glasgow on Victoria Derbyshire’s 5 Live show of 8th November 2011, who following informing her employers that she was pregnant was demoted, the impact of this meant that she decided to abort her baby.

So why is that with all this legislation and modern working practices are there still so many claims of discrimination, is this wilful discrimination by employers or is it just lack of knowledge?

The truth I am afraid it is both, there are scrupulous employers who actively discriminate against pregnant women, however a lot of employers simply don’t understand the legislative requirements and entitlements.

Of the 400,000 tribunal claims made last year over 60% of these were on grounds of discrimination, the majority of these claims don’t get to judgement, as employers who know they are going to lose will settle before judgement is passed. This is why there are such a high percentage of employers win rate on discrimination claims, 98%. Of course it is in the best interests of employers to settle such they think they will lose because the compensation levels for an employee on a successful claim is an unlimited payout.

So what should employers do, they need to understand the different aspects and requirements of the legislation and where possible accommodate the requests. Some employers fear maternity as causing major commercial and operational impact on there business. Pregnancy does not equal poor performance or demonstrate a lack of loyalty. Those employers who embrace a family friendly policy will be reward with a high morale and engagement.

Useful links to information on family friendly legislation: