Maternity and Pregnancy Discrimination – a guide to your rights
See our Frequently Asked Questions on pregnancy and maternity discrimination here.
It is unlawful for your employer to treat you unfavourably because you are pregnant or on maternity leave. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination occurs if you are treated unfavourably:
- because you are exercising or seeking to exercise, or have exercised or sought to exercise, the right to maternity leave; or
- during the protected period (see below), because of your pregnancy or because of an illness suffered by you as a result of your pregnancy (even if the actual unfavourable treatment occurs after the protected period, if the decision was taken during the protected period, it will be deemed to have occurred during the protected period).
Examples of pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination can include dismissal, removal of your responsibilities or seniority, a failure to offer a pay rise when you would have had one if you had been in work, or the refusal to promote or offer training because you have been on maternity leave.
What is the protected period?
The protected period begins when your pregnancy begins and ends either:
- where you have a right to maternity leave, at the end of the maternity leave, or when you return to work after the pregnancy (if earlier); or
- where you do not have the right to maternity leave, two weeks after the end of your pregnancy.
To see whether you would have a right to maternity leave visit our section on maternity leave.
Outside the protected period, you may still be protected by sex discrimination law if suffer a detriment you are not being offered work because had (or were trying to have) a child, you may have a sex discrimination claim.
Agency workers have some of the same rights as other workers, such as the right not to be discriminated against because of pregnancy. You should not be treated less favourably, or refused work, because:
- You are pregnant;
- You have given birth in the last two weeks if you are not entitled to maternity leave;
- You have given birth in the past year if you are entitled to maternity leave;
- You have tried to assert one of your legal rights, such as the right to Statutory Maternity Pay.
Both the agency you work for and the company where you are working are under a duty not to discriminate against you. However, in order to be able to claim discrimination, you will have to tell your recruitment agency and the company you are working for about your pregnancy.
See our section on Agency Workers for further information.
You can’t claim maternity discrimination in the workplace but if you work for other companies as a contractor, you are still protected by sex discrimination law, and if you are not being offered work because you have taken time off to have a child, you may have a sex discrimination claim.
You should first try to resolve the problem informally. If this doesn’t work you should begin a grievance following your employer’s grievance policy and procedure. See our section on what to do if you are having problems at work.
If this does not resolve the matter you could bring a claim in the employment tribunal for pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Proving discrimination claims can be difficult: the discrimination is rarely made explicit. Most employers won’t actually say: ‘The reason why I’m dismissing you is because you’re pregnant’. So it is necessary to produce evidence to prove the real reason for the unfavourable treatment so that the tribunal can infer from the facts what really happened. The tribunal will follow a two stage ‘burden of proof’ test: firstly, they decide whether you (the claimant, bringing a pregnancy or maternity discrimination claim) have provided sufficient proof that an act of unlawful discrimination has taken place. Then, the burden of proof will shift to your employer to provide a non-discriminatory explanation for their actions.
See our section on starting a claim for further information and beware of time limits: a discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal must be started within 3 months (3 months less 1 day) from the act you want to complain about.
This advice applies in England, Wales and Scotland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.