UK EOC puts the heat on pregnancy discrimination ‘iceberg’


UK EOC puts the heat on pregnancy discrimination ‘iceberg’

The UK’s Equal Opportunity Commission is calling for a raft of changes to help stamp out pregnancy discrimination in UK workplaces, including increasing maternity leave.


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The UK’s Equal Opportunity Commission is calling for a raft of changes to help stamp out pregnancy discrimination in UK workplaces, including increasing maternity leave.

A formal EOC investigation into pregnancy discrimination has found that the 500 women who had talked to the EOC about their experiences with pregnancy discrimination were just ‘the tip of the iceberg.’

'Every year, in England and Wales alone, around 1,000 women take legal action against their employer claiming they were sacked because of pregnancy,’ said the interim report.

‘When discrimination occurs, the economy and business loose out on talent as well as facing the costs of replacing staff and, sometimes, legal costs. Some women fear the effect of pregnancy on their careers and there is evidence that women are having fewer children than they would ideally choose (OECD 2003),’ it said.

The report recommended a number of areas for change, in particular, improving the general understanding of the law as it relates to pregnancy and discrimination, and the Government taking more responsibility for supporting families, employers and the role of fathers as carers.

Role of fathers

The role of fathers was a particular focus point, with the report finding that the amount of time fathers spent in a caring role having increased from around an average 15 minutes a day 30 years ago, to two hours a day. It also suggested that a framework focusing on both parents may help reduce discrimination towards women.

‘Within the family, having children is not just a mother’s responsibility. In most families, including where the parents are separated, both parents now take an active parenting role and the children are benefiting. Yet the framework in place to support parents is almost entirely directed at mothers and this is one of the reasons why employers may discriminate against women,’ said the report.

As part of recommended ‘New Family Strategy’, the EOC said that the UK’s current maternity and paternity leave entitlements should be increased. It also recommended that parents be given the right to choose which will take up the second six months of parental leave, the right to ask for flexible hours be extended to all parents, not just those with small children, and the childcare availability and quality be increased.


Around 350,000 women are pregnant each year in the UK. Businesses with fewer than ten employees are likely to have a pregnant employee one year out of every ten, while those with less than 25 employees have a pregnant employee one year out of every five. 14% of women in the UK are economically inactive because of family responsibilities.

Sarah Maddison, spokesperson for the Women’s Electorial Commission, said that the UK EOC’s report ‘highlights how far behind the eight-ball Australia is on these kinds of topics. We have had massive government inaction in regards to pregnancy and the workplace and very few policies in place that make combining parenthood and work easier for anyone.

‘Institutionalising paid maternity leave as an industrial right, just like sick leave, holiday leave and military leave, is simply not that difficult, she said.

The UK’s EOC recommendations:

  • A ‘National Family Strategy’ increasing the amount of parental leave offered, allowing all parents the right to flexible working hours, more affordable and more accessible childcare.
  • Clearer information to be provided to employees and employers about their legal rights via the distribution of a written statement of rights and responsibilities.
  • The introduction of a statutory Code of Practice for employers, jointly prepared by the EOC, ACAS and the Heath and Safety Commission.
  • Government led communications programme explaining to employers and the general public why it is important to support pregnant women.
  • The introduction of an employer toolkit to provide help with planning and managing a pregnancy in the workplace, including communications tools.
  • Increase the knowledge and compliance with health and safety duties as they apply to pregnancy in the workplace.
  • Extending the three-month time limit for filing a pregnancy-related claim.


‘Tip of the iceberg’ An interim report on EOC’s investigation into discrimination against new and expectant mothers in the workplace

Paid maternity leave but no paternity leave – not discriminatory

Workplace safety for pregnancy and reproductive health – ILO guidance


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