One in four new or soon-to-be mothers have faced discrimination at work during the coronavirus lockdown by being singled out for redundancy or furlough, new research has shown.
Pregnant women reported being forced to take sick leave when they were not unwell, having to take unpaid leave or start their maternity leave early and being unable to go to work because their employer failed to make their workplace safe for them.
All of these actions are illegal, said the Trades Union Congress, a federation of unions which conducted the research based on the experiences of more than 3,400 women.
Frances O’Grady, of the TUC, said workplaces should be safe for pregnant women and new mothers and if this was not possibly employers must suspend them on full pay.
“Employers must stop illegally selecting these women for redundancy. Bosses who break the law should be fined,” she said.
Pregnant women have the right to be paid in full if they cannot come into work because of health and safety risks and suitable alternative work cannot be found.
Amy Wren, of law firm Farrer & Co, said women on maternity are often the most at risk when redundancy decisions are made. “It’s simply because they are ‘out of sight and out of mind’ and not physically present in the workplace, even though legally they should be included in any consultations,” she said.
“There is a specific legal protection for those on maternity leave that means they should be given priority for alternative roles – but this only works when alternative roles are available. Many new mothers may simply find they do not have a job to return to when their leave ends.”
Businesses are required to undertake a Covid-19 risk assessment before asking employees to come back to work. This should take into account any risks, including those to pregnant women or new mothers. However more than four in 10 women told the TUC they had not had a workplace risk assessment.
One woman currently on maternity leave told this newspaper that she had been treated unfairly throughout the lockdown. “I was made redundant from my job as a teaching assistant and then denied my redundancy because I was offered another role that was nothing like my original one. I had to turn that down and so voided my redundancy payment,” she said.
Another, who is nearing her due date, said she had asked to work from home, as she is able to do so, but her employer refused, despite the Government’s announcement that pregnant women should self-isolate. “I had to take unpaid leave because I was too scared to go into the office,” she added.
Are you a pregnant woman or new mother and feel you have been discriminated against at work? Get in touch with The Telegraph by emailing [email protected]