60,000 women a year lose their jobs as a result of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, but new rules make it harder for workers to bring claims to employment tribunals

14 May 2015

Joeli Brearley, writing for the Guardian, reports on the large number of women who suffer workplace discrimination when they become pregnant, with 60,000 women a year losing their jobs and more who are demoted, harassed, not put forward for promotion or who lose contracts if they are self-employed.

Drawing on her own experience of being sacked and unable to find new employment during her pregnancy, Brearly suggests that women are less likely to bring cases to a tribunal due to the three month time limit in which discrimination claims can legally be made.

‘For maternity discrimination, those three months usually come at a time when you are exhausted, (and) lacking in confidence’. She suggests that the time limit be extended to 12 months.

Furthermore, she states that women who are victims of discrimination are less likely to lodge a complaint due to fear of being labelled ‘troublemakers’, or losing their jobs if they are still in work.

The TUC has found that following the introduction of tribunal fees (of up to £1200), there has been a 79 per cent fall in claims taken to employment tribunals; an 80 per cent fall in the number of women pursuing sex discrimination claims and a 26 per cent decrease in pregnancy discrimination cases. Amelia Gentleman, reporting for the Guardian, argues that the new fees prohibit employees from making claims that would otherwise be successful.

Under the new rules, claimants are also required to consult with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) before being granted access to a full tribunal. Acas was put in place to ‘improve employment relations and prevent tribunals’, reports the BBC.
Emma Thelwell reports that since 2012/13 employment tribunal cases launched on the basis of race, gender, age and disability have all decreased. She states that this is due to the introduction of tribunal fees and outdated discrimination laws:

‘Though the Equality Act was established in 2010, the laws around discrimination have changed very little since the 1970s.’

Thelwell suggests that work-place discrimination, particularly on the basis of race and ethnicity is still widespread. Unite describes the changes as ‘a cynical hammer blow designed to make it as difficult as possible to lodge a tribunal claim, and a massive attack on people mistreated at work’. Brearley has launched a new project called Pregnant Then Screwed, for people like her to share their stories, click here for more details.