After receiving 14,000 calls about pregnancy and maternity discrimination throughout the course of the last year (constituting a 10 per cent increase on the previous year) ACAS have published guidance for employers on how to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace.

From the beginning of her pregnancy to the end of her maternity leave, a woman is protected against discrimination she faces as a consequence of:

  • Her pregnancy;
  • Any illness related to her pregnancy, or absence because of that illness;
  • Her taking maternity pay/leave; and
  • Being prevented from returning to work because she is breastfeeding.

There is no minimum length of continuous employment required for an individual to bring a claim for pregnancy or maternity discrimination. A claim can arise from a discriminatory job advert prior to any offer of employment being made, up to a claim arising post-employment, for unfavourable references given because of pregnancy or maternity.

Key recommendations include:

  • Ensuring that expectant and new mothers' terms of employment continue in the same respect as if they were still employed throughout their pregnancy and maternity leave. In particular, ensuring that their annual leave accrues as normal and their pension contributions proceed as normal for the first 6 months of their maternity leave;
  • Informing employees on maternity leave of all promotion/training opportunities;
  • Ensuring pregnancy-related absences are not included in an employee's absence record; and
  • Ensuring employees are not dismissed or made redundant for any reason connected to pregnancy, maternity leave, or complaints concerning maternity pay.

Employers are further advised to make broader changes at work, namely developing a policy which outlines the responsibilities and rights of both pregnant employees and employees on maternity leave, to include providing assurances that they will not be dismissed or made redundant because they fall pregnant. The ACAS guidance encourages employers to make reasonable adjustments to protect the health and safety of pregnant employees and their unborn children, a responsibility which is ongoing and should be reviewed periodically to ensure that the needs of the expectant or new mother are being met.

The guidance encourages employers to provide training for all employees to develop their general awareness and understanding of equality and diversity and provide specific training on how to manage pregnancy and maternity in the workplace. This is particularly important as with other acts of discrimination, employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.