Pregnant employees treated like dirt

Congratulations - you're fired

Research from the Equal Opportunities Commission and shopworkers union Usdaw shows the levels of discrimination suffered by pregnant women in the UK.

Problems include dismissal, redundancy, forced resignation or being denied training. Nearly a quarter of women who made formal claims of pregnancy discrimination were dismissed within hours or days of telling their employers they were pregnant. Fewer than one in three women received a health and safety risk assessment. One in five women who return to work after having a baby do so at a lower grade or job than they held before.

The EOC has been investigating this for a year. The EOC is seeking responses to its findings before 30 September. These will be presented to Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for trade and industry, in March 2005.

The research found pregnant women are less likely to make formal tribunal complaints because of the stress involved and the three month limit on making such complaints.

The EOC says many problems are caused by lack of knowledge amongst both employers and employees. It recomends that both parties receive a copy of their rights and responsibilities. For instance many employers are not aware they can reclaim Statutory Maternity Pay, small employers can claim 105 per cent of such payments.

The EOC also calls on the Goverment to review existing law to make it easier for everyone to understand. It also calls for more action on enforcement from the Health and Safety Executive and an extension to the three month time limit for filing complaints. The lobby group also calls for more access to mediation and conciliation services to stop cases going to tribunal.

Research from shopworkers union Usdaw, also published to mark National Pregnancy Week, mirrored EOC's findings. Usdaw spoke to 1,200 pregnant women working for UK retailers. 62 per cent of those questioned felt their pregnancy resulted in a more negative attitude from their employer - one in four felt "marginalised and ignored". More than 70 per cent did not receive a Health and Safety assessment.

A quarter of pregnant women were not given a suitable uniform to wear. Many women had to use elastic and zips to adjust their own uniforms or borrow bigger uniforms from colleagues. One store had only one pregnancy uniform which was passed on from one pregnant worker to another.

More details on the EOC interim report are available for download here.

And there's more on Usdaw's findings here. ®

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