Six in ten bosses think women should have to tell a potential employer if she is pregnant, according to research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The survey of 1,106 senior decision makers found that 44% of employers agree that women should work for an organisation for at least a year before deciding to have children, and almost half (46%) of employers agree it is reasonable to ask women if they have young children during the recruitment process.
Negative options towards new mothers were also common. 40% of employers claimed to have seen at least one pregnant woman in their workplace ‘take advantage’ of their pregnancy, whilst around a third believe that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are ‘generally less interested in career progression’ when compared to other employees in their company.
Financially, four in ten (41%) employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace puts ‘an unnecessary cost burden’ on the workplace.
The researchers warned that British employers are ‘living in the dark ages’ when it comes to pregnancy.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said that employers should know better. “We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant,” she said. “Yet we also know that women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews.
“It’s clear that many employers need more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.”
In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 states that unlawful pregnancy and maternity discrimination occurs when anyone who is pregnant, breastfeeding or recently giving birth is treated unfavourably.
Recruiters are legally required not to consider that a woman is pregnant, or might become pregnant when making a hiring decision. However, according to the Equality and Human Rights commission, it’s not unlawful for those in hiring to ask such questions – but they could find themselves liable for discrimination, if an employment tribunal find that it’s the reason the woman didn’t get the job.
Sarah Rees was working for a large charity when she faced maternity discrimination. Talking to the BBC, she said was keen to return to work quickly, but her employer ignored her attempts to contact them. Eventually she was made redundant, and she could not afford to take the case to a tribunal.
“I loved my job,” she said. “Because no one had contacted me I did things like I looked at the company website and I realised that I had been removed from the list of staff, so things started to add up and I realised I wasn’t wanted any more.”
She now advises women to: “join your trade union, because it’s something that I didn’t, because thinking I was working for a charity that I’d be protected”.