Shockingly, pregnant women and mothers report more discrimination and poor treatment at work now than they did a decade ago. With record numbers of women in work in 2016, the situation is likely to decline further unless it is tackled effectively now. Urgent action and leadership is needed, but the approach that the Government is taking forward lacks urgency and bite. There is a lack of detail about the Government’s objectives, how and when it expects to achieve them, and how the effectiveness of its approach will be assessed. We welcome the awareness-raising work that the Government is doing with the EHRC and businesses, but it needs to set out a detailed plan outlining the specific actions it will take to tackle this unacceptable level of discrimination. This work must be underpinned by concrete actions to increase significantly compliance by employers and so improve women’s lives.
The Government must make changes in laws and protections to ensure a safe working environment for new and expectant mothers, to prevent discriminatory redundancies and to increase protection for casual, agency and zero-hours workers. It must also provide incentives and ensure better enforcement to encourage better employer practice. Currently, the burden of enforcement rests with the individual experiencing discrimination, but the number of women taking enforcement action is low. The Government must take urgent action to remove barriers to justice and should seek ways of reducing the burden on women and making it easier for them to take action. It must also set out how it will monitor whether outcomes are improving for women.
Strategy and leadership
1.The Government should publish a strong, specific communications plan for the awareness-raising and attitude-changing work it has agreed to undertake in response to the EHRC’s recommendations. The plan should include clear timelines and should set out where accountability for implementation will lie. (Paragraph 106)
Changes in laws and protections
2.Employers should be required to undertake an individual risk assessment when they are informed that a woman who works for them is pregnant, has given birth in the past six months or is breastfeeding. (Paragraph 44)
3.The right to paid time off for antenatal appointments should be extended to workers. The Government should review the pregnancy and maternity-related rights available to workers and legislate to give greater parity between workers and employees. (Paragraphs 57 and 58)
4.The Government should increase protection from redundancy so that new and expectant mothers can be made redundant only in specified circumstances. (Paragraph 70)
Access to justice
5.The Government should review the three-month time limit for bringing a tribunal claim in maternity and pregnancy discrimination cases and should substantially reduce tribunal fees. (Paragraphs 143 and 146)
6.The Government should monitor access to free, good-quality, one-to-one advice on pregnancy and maternity discrimination issues and assess whether additional resources are required. (Paragraph 157)
4 August 2016