Posted by Madeleine Speed, the Pelvic Partnership, September 2016
You may have noticed that pregnancy in the workplace was back in the news recently. This followed the publication of a report by MPs on the rise of pregnant women and mothers who are being forced out of work. It's an area of discrimination that affects many women (as well as their families) and apparently figures for this have more than doubled since 2005. The Pelvic Partnership is aware that some of our members and supporters have found issues at work either with their pregnancy in general or with their symptoms of Pelvic-Girdle Pain (PGP) in particular.
A report was published on 31st August 2016 by The Women and Equalities Committee, demanding urgent action from the Government to protect the rights of pregnant women and mothers who have been forced out of work. The report outlines how, despite the vulnerability of family finances when a new baby arrives, thousands of expectant and new mothers are forced to leave work. This arises either because of concerns about the safety of their child or as a direct result of pregnancy discrimination.
"Shockingly, this figure has almost doubled in the last decade, now standing at 54,000." the Committee Chair, Maria Miller, has commented.
With record numbers of women in the UK workplace, this level of discrimination threatens not only the welfare of families but also has negative implications for the UK economy. There's evidence to suggest that pregnant women and mothers now face more discrimination at work than they did a decade ago. Of the women who reported discrimination, 11% stated it was as a result of being dismissed, made compulsorily redundant (when others were not) or being treated so poorly that they felt they had to leave their job (figures from research carried out by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - replaced in July 2016 by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy - and the Equality and Human Rights Commission).*
It may serve as some consolation to know that the MPs' report urges the Government to provide new protection in law against redundancy for new and expectant mothers. It also recommends that a system is adopted similar to that used in Germany which outlines that women can be made redundant only in very specific circumstances. Recommendations also include changes to health and safety practices as well as increasing protection for casual, agency and zero-hours workers.
MPs are demanding that the Government takes urgent action to address this significant rise in workplace discrimination by publishing an ambitious and detailed plan to combat it within the next two years.
In the meantime
Ahead of any response to this report from Government, there are steps you can take if you feel you are being discriminated at work because you are pregnant or have children. Employers have to follow the law as it stands at the moment on preventing discrimination at work (see this link: www.gov.uk/employer-preventing-discrimination). You can also take action yourself if you believe you are being discriminated against. (see this link: /www.gov.uk/discrimination-your-rights/what-you-can-do).
If you are aware that your symptoms of PGP in pregnancy have sparked interest or negative comments at work, you may want to start a dialogue with your boss as early as possible. Have a look at the Pelvic Partnership's leaflet about PGP in the workplace. You can also show your employer the charity's website including information about what PGP is and its symptoms. It is often very useful to start talking to your employer as soon as you start to notice the symptoms of PGP and find it difficult to do any tasks that were not a problem before.
If you find that your boss isn't prepared to listen or that your Human Resources Department is unsympathetic, you might find it helpful to talk through your experiences and to find out your rights ahead of taking action if pregnancy or maternity discrimination has directly affected you. For example, get in touch with Citizens Advice which has an area on its website about discrimination. You may also find emotional support and assistance from the following:
- Birthrights states that "Birthrights is the UK’s only organisation dedicated to improving women’s experience of pregnancy and childbirth by promoting respect for human rights. We believe that all women are entitled to respectful maternity care that protects their fundamental rights to dignity, autonomy, privacy and equality."
- Rights of Women is a women's charity that is "working in a number of ways to help women through the law."
* HM Government and EHRC, Pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination and disadvantage: Experiences of mothers, March 2016, pp. 38-39.