A recently survey produced by the Equity and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) shows a startling number of young women are experiencing workplace discrimination over issues relating to pregnancy and maternity.
The EHRC report also reveals how women are six times more likely to be dismissed from their job if they are pregnant, and that 6% of women blow the age of 25 will suffer discrimination from an employer. This is a major contrast to the estimated 1% of mothers from older age groups who are likely to experience discrimination. 15% of the younger mothers polled for the survey claim they were pressured into resigning from their role, a figure that contrasts with the 7% of older women who felt the same. In total, every year pregnancy discrimination forces 54,000 women from their jobs.
EHRC official Caroline Water has commented on the findings: “Young working mothers are feeling the brunt of pregnancy and maternity discrimination with more than any other age group being forced out of their jobs, facing harassment and experiencing issues with their health as a result.”
Further issues explored in the report show how many young women are unaware of their rights regarding discrimination in the workplace. This is particularly true of women in less stable employment positions that are of a lower wage, as they are less likely to confront an employer and speak out legally regarding their grievance, largely out of fear of experiencing employer retaliation. This is especially true of service based employment sectors such as childcare, which are industries that require hundreds of thousands of UK women to work to zero hours contracts.
The impact of pregnancy discrimination on younger women, who are yet to reach their full potential in the workplace is that they feel they have no choice but to make choose between starting a family and having a career; a decision amplified by the lack of trade union representatives available in these career industries.
The EHRC is already searching for solutions to correct these issues, and has launched a campaign to encourage pregnant women to speak out regarding their rights. Employers are also being encouraged to assist in this effort by ensuring that women have a safe and comfortable environment in which they can speak.
Ms Water of the EHRC has spoken of the necessity in creating such an atmosphere for working mothers: “We cannot continue to allow these young women to be unfairly held back in the starting blocks of their working lives when they could have the potential to achieve greatness”.
Since July 2013, UK employment tribunals require fee payments by claimants, even if their claim proves not to be successful. This makes bringing a case to tribunal very difficult for young women and it is made worse by the current law requiring all cases to be submitted within three months of the grievance suffered, which is a short time period for a woman to make while simultaneously preparing for the lifestyle adjustment that motherhood brings. The lack of tribunal support for young mothers is evidenced by the less than 1% of pregnancy discrimination claims being brought before an employment tribunal.
The tribunal fee of 2013 was intended to reduce false claims from being launched but has ultimately had the negative consequence of denying many genuine cases from being heard.
The Scottish government plans to remove tribunal fees in the near future; a move made possible thanks to Scottish parliament being given greater power in accordance with the Scotland Act 2016. Once this legal change is made, Scottish women will be legally empowered to confront maternity and pregnancy dissociation on a far greater degree scale, which may inspire the other UK countries to follow suit.