MPs on the Women and Equalities Committee have called on the government to urgently take action to counter a “shocking” increase in pregnancy discrimination over the last ten years.

With record numbers of women in work, they predict that the situation is likely to get worse, not least because the government’s approach to date has lacked “urgency and bite”. Indeed, they criticize the government for not having clear objectives for tackling the problem, nor how and when it hopes to achieve them.

Whilst acknowledging the government’s efforts in raising awareness among employers, the Committee members are critical that it lacks a detailed plan outlining the specific actions it will take to tackle high levels of discrimination among pregnant women. They also urge the government to underpin the plan with concrete actions and timelines to significantly increase compliance by employers in order to improve women’s lives at work.

The Committee recommends that:

  • Employers be required to undertake an individual risk assessment once they have been told that a woman who works for them is pregnant, has given birth in the past six months or is breastfeeding. The Health and Safety Executive should include this requirement in its guidance to employers by the end of 2016.
  • The right to paid time off for antenatal appointments should be extended to workers. The Government should review the pregnancy and maternity-related rights available to workers and legislate to give greater parity between workers and employees.
  • The Government should increase protection from redundancy so that new and expectant mothers can only be made redundant in specified circumstances.
  • The Government should review the three-month time limit for bringing a tribunal claim in maternity and pregnancy discrimination cases and should substantially reduce tribunal fees.
  • The Government should monitor access to free, good-quality, one-to-one advice on pregnancy and maternity discrimination issues and assess whether additional resources are required.

Gerard Airey of Thompsons Solicitors commented “it is important that the issue of pregnancy discrimination is kept under constant review. My experience is that, unfortunately, employers often seem to forget about women on maternity leave. I believe that a review of time limits is important as my experience of these claims is that a woman who has been on maternity leave often doesn’t know that any issues have arisen until she returns, at which point there will be arguments about time limits.”

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