In an interview with The Times, Nicola Brewer, chief executive of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, said that employers are thinking twice about offering women of child-bearing age jobs or promotion because women are now entitled to a year off for each child. She argued that current laws had unintentionally made women a less attractive prospect to employers.
Jane Fielding, employment partner, says, "It's not just women who need to beware of this backlash - it's also employers. Alan Sugar of The Apprentice famously questioned whether a female candidate could combine the job with family, making some employers think this kind of questioning is acceptable. But legally, it isn't. Just because this kind of thing is said in public doesn't mean it's ok for employers to say it in private."
Ms Brewer is questioning the effectiveness of current legislation in challenging social assumptions and querying whether the law is now on the right track. Jane agrees, "Take the issue of holiday entitlement, for example."
Statutory holiday entitlement continues to accrue during maternity leave, so an employee may be off for a year, and on their return, take the 28-day holiday entitlement. By this time, they could be pregnant with a second child. An employee may only be back at work for a month or two, before taking a further 12 months maternity leave, again continuing to accrue holiday leave.
Jane says, "In those circumstances, it's only human if employers are not overjoyed to hear an employee is pregnant. But despite what's now being said about the law, any negative reaction to an employee announcing that they are pregnant could be discrimination and even constructive dismissal."
The Government needs to stop asking employers to do all the work to achieve social change. Jane adds, "It's not just about women in the workplace, it's also about men in the home. Until mothers' partners see childcare as an equal responsibility, women will continue to lose out and employers will continue to be at risk."