Women across the UK are being discriminated against every day, because they decide to have a child. Our survey revealed 60 per cent of women said they faced discrimination when they became pregnant while 40 per cent of employers admitted avoiding employing women of a child-bearing age. The latest government-backed survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission supported our findings when they revealed 54,000 women are forced out of work every year after having a child. Furthermore, 100,000 women experienced some form of discrimination or harassment related to childcare issues.
This is an area of the law that needs reform and we welcome efforts by MP Yvette Cooper to champion the cause. She wants to strengthen the law to make it harder for women to be made redundant while they are on maternity leave. As she correctly says, women are expected to file an employment claim within three months of the discrimination taking place. This is unfair if it comes at a time when they are coping with the pressures of a newborn. In addition, they are expected to find up to £1,200 to obtain legal redress when they are already worrying about childcare.
As a specialist employment law firm, we see hundreds of cases of maternity discrimination every year so these plans are welcome. However, the law needs to be strengthened further.
We would like to see a positive duty imposed on employers requiring them to accommodate parents within reason. The only way we can create a level playing field for mothers and fathers with childcare responsibilities is to ensure that steps are taken by employers to require them to remove the obstacles hampering then from returning to work after maternity or parental leave.
Employers should be obliged to publish regular audits on the number of women continuing to work following maternity leave. If this was in place, and companies could be scrutinised on the results, bosses may focus more on solving the issues many women face when returning to work.
We would also welcome giving tribunals extra powers to impose exemplary damages on employers over and above the current system. This may inspire bosses to pay more than lip service to helping parents return to the workplace.
For too many talented women starting a family is the end of their career. In modern day Britain, this shouldn’t be the case.
senior employment lawyer, Slater and Gordon