Recently, MPs urged better job protection for expectant and new mothers and #pregnancydiscrimination trended on Twitter. It trended because thousands of women read the news story, nodded their heads and said, 'that happened to me'. Women are bullied when pregnant or are made redundant after maternity leave. They end up missing out on promotions or they accept reduced pay or unfavourable conditions.
And thousands of women don't fight back. They need their jobs - not only for the money, but also because they love their careers and have worked hard to develop them. But they may be afraid to 'make a fuss'. They may not have the money, the confidence or the emotional reserves required in order to engage in a legal battle.
- 40% of managers admitted they are wary of hiring a woman of childbearing age.
- A government report found 77% of mothers felt they had a negative and/or discriminatory experience related to pregnancy, maternity leave and returning to work (compared to 45% a decade ago).
- The same report found that 51% of mothers who had their flexible working request approved felt it resulted in negative consequences.
- Surveys have shown that more than half of working mums have had their flexible working request turned down.
- Mothers who return to work end up earning a third less than men.
- In order to raise concerns at a tribunal, you need to pay £1200, and there is a 3-month time-limit for making a claim.
If you're a pregnant woman worrying about the future of her career, or a woman on maternity leave trying to make arrangements to return to work, or a woman who already feels she's been poorly treated at work just because she had a baby, here are some tips and resources for standing up for yourself.
When you're pregnant at work
If you're feeling okay during the first trimester, try to get pay rises, promotions or assignments to important projects sorted as much as possible before you announce your pregnancy. You are not legally obligated to tell your employer until 15 weeks before the beginning of the week your baby's due.
On the other hand, if you're feeling very unwell in the first trimester, you should tell your manager. It is illegal for you to receive any unfavourable treatment as a result of time off or breaks taken due to pregnancy-related illness. There is more information on this pregnancy sickness support website.
You are entitled to paid time off for antenatal appointments. Your employer also must make sure that your working conditions do not put you and your baby at risk. Maternity Action have a useful info sheet about your health & safety rights.
If you experience a miscarriage, you are entitled to paid sick leave and no unfavourable treatment. You may also be entitled to paid sick leave if you experience an exceptionally traumatic pregnancy. If you experience a stillbirth or neonatal death, you are still entitled to all of your maternity leave and rights. The Working Families website has a useful summary of your pregnancy bereavement rights.
All about maternity leave
The Citizens Advice Bureau offers a great summary of your maternity leave rights, including when it can start and how long it lasts. You should also check out Gov.uk, which offers a useful maternity planner to help you plan your leave days and calculate your pay.
Early on, you should consider shared parental leave, a new entitlement to split your maternity leave with your partner. The Worksmart website offers a useful guide to this
Finally, if you are keen to return to work after your baby, please use your Keeping in Touch Days. These are 10 days when you can go to work to keep up to speed with what's going on, without ending your maternity leave. You are entitled to receive full pay for them! More importantly, these days can help you maintain your confidence about working and help your employer realise you are serious about returning.
Returning to work
If you are put at risk of redundancy during your leave or upon your return to work, please scrutinise it. If you are being singled out for redundancy and no one else is at risk, it is probably illegal.
Be aware that your employer is not allowed to deny you the right to express breastmilk at work, and they must allow you to adjust your working patterns to allow for breastfeeding. You cannot be expected to express breastmilk in the toilets.
If you've been employed at your workplace for more than 26 weeks, you have a right to request flexible working. This could involve part-time hours, flexible hours or home-working. You should have a meeting with your employer to discuss your flexible working request. It is considered good practice to allow you to bring a union representative or work colleague along to the meeting to back you up, and I encourage you to do this so that you are less likely to be intimidated into agreeing to something you don't really want.
They cannot turn your request down unless they have a sound business reason, such as extra expense or not being able to do it during non-standard hours. Please question them if they turn you down, and consider an appeal.
It's important to remember that if your request is accepted, it should not involve any drop in status or pay. Part-time and flexible workers are entitled to the same promotion prospects, incremental pay rises and other employment benefits as full-time workers. Acas has further advice about this and a free helpline for any employment rights questions.
Pregnancy, birth and motherhood can change you in so many ways, it's super unfair that we still have to fight for our jobs when we've been through so much. Maternity can knock your confidence, and we deserve support and equal treatment.
If you like my writing, please check out my blog, The Mum Reviews.