Equal rights for mums and mums-to-be
Thanks to the Equality Act (2010), no employer can discriminate against a woman because she is pregnant or has recently given birth, or in the case of a pregnancy-related illness, or relating to the right to maternity leave. As soon as a woman becomes pregnant, she is protected from discrimination until maternity leave ends or she returns to work.
Businesses have to be particularly careful around this issue as, unlike other forms of discrimination, the employee doesn’t have to show that they’ve been treated less favourably than another (non-pregnant) employee, just that they are unlikely to have received the same treatment had they not been pregnant.
The same rules apply
Pregnancy discrimination can take a variety of forms. It may be that the employee isn’t offered the same training or promotion opportunities as they otherwise would have been or that their pregnancy-related sickness leads to unfavourable treatment. In the worst cases, it could be that a woman is dismissed just before or shortly after returning from maternity leave, is side-lined in favour of another employee or even made redundant on account of her pregnancy.
Women have a right to return to their positions after maternity leave has ended on the same terms and conditions as they had prior to their maternity leave. A forward-thinking employer who values their workforce may be open to flexible working hours or a phased return but this is very much up to individual companies.
If the issue of redundancy arises in a workplace, it’s one of the few areas of law where the employer is allowed to discriminate positively in favour of a worker who is pregnant or on maternity leave. In this scenario, the woman could be offered any suitable alternative vacancy without going through the interview process.
Not all employers would opt to follow this guidance, though, and may not feel obliged to provide another opportunity.
 Participation E. Equality Act 2010 [Internet]. [cited 2017 Feb 23]. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents
 Participation E. Equality Act 2010 [Internet]. [cited 2017 Feb 23]. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/18
 Pregnant employees’ rights - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Feb 23]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/working-when-pregnant-your-rights
 Pregnancy and maternity discrimination - Citizens Advice [Internet]. [cited 2017 Feb 23]. Available from: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/law-and-courts/discrimination/what-are-the-different-types-of-discrimination/pregnancy-and-maternity-discrimination/
 HSE: New and expectant mothers - Home page [Internet]. [cited 2017 Feb 23]. Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/mothers/