Nearly half of pregnant women are treated unfairly by their bosses

A new survey reveals that one in six expectant women is too scared even to tell her employers about her condition
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The Independent Online

Pregnant women are missing out on promotion and facing harassment from their employers, with one in six too scared to tell their bosses about their condition, new research reveals.

Many women believe they have missed out on better-paid jobs because of their pregnancy, while others were made to feel that they were letting their team down, according to the study.

The attitudes of some employers were yesterday condemned by the Equal Opportunities Commission, after research showed that 45 per cent of pregnant women are suffering "unfair treatment" at the hands of their employers across the UK every year. The EOC's chief executive, Caroline Slocock, said: "Sadly, far too many women are treated badly at work simply because they are pregnant."

The new study of 1,100 mothers-to-be showed that a quarter felt pressure to work just as they had done prior to the pregnancy. Nearly one in 10 said that their employer or colleagues made them feel guilty for letting the company down by getting pregnant, and 5 per cent believed that they had missed out on promotion.

Some gave a catalogue of horror stories of insensitive treatment in the workplace during their pregnancy. One woman in the survey, which was jointly commissioned with the baby charity Tommy's, said: "When I told my manager during a meeting about the coming year, he said, 'Oh well, you could still lose it yet. It's early days.'"

Another reported that her human resources department refused to allow her to add her holiday entitlement on to the start of her maternity leave "because 'what would I do if the baby died during delivery?' I cried at the insensitivity of it."

Jane Brewin, chief executive of Tommy's, which funds research into safe pregnancy, said: "These are alarming statistics, as they show just how little pregnant women at work are being supported through their pregnancy - and how this is detrimentally affecting them, both mentally and physically. Pregnant women must be reassured that their emotional feelings are commonplace."

The EOC's study, concluded earlier this year, found that 71 per cent of pregnant women who were treated unfairly at work have not taken action against their employer.

Ms Slocock said: "Nearly half of the women we surveyed had suffered unfair treatment, and most of these women suffered in silence. Unfair treatment can range from unhelpful comments to being demoted or even sacked.

"A lack of awareness among both employers and pregnant women is often the root of the problem. Anyone who has suffered pregnancy discrimination can ring the EOC's helpline for support and advice."

Companies are legally obliged to allow pregnant women paid time off for antenatal classes and should not discriminate against them.

Yet many women are worried that getting pregnant will cost them their livelihood. The EOC survey found that 30,000 women are sacked or forced to leave their job because of their pregnancy.

A respondent who took part in the survey claimed that she was forced to continue her physical work despite being pregnant: "At work I have just been told to get on with things and that I am only pregnant. I have felt the need to continue lifting heavy boxes due to lack of support."

Jane Brewin commented: "They're not alone in feeling like this, and there are plenty of support services available to them - like the Pregnancy Information Line."

Despite experiencing "unfair treatment", two out of three women plan to return to work after having their baby, but 72 per cent said they will go back because they cannot afford to be a full-time mother.

The Litigant: 'They would not give me a contract'

Rachael Anstey, 31, started as a recruitment consultant at Advantage Healthcare Group in Birmingham last October. She thought she was doing well, but when she said she was pregnant, she was told she would not be getting a permanent job.

"I was put on a three-month probationary period and during that time I fell pregnant. I was worried about telling my bosses but followed correct procedure and told them. I was scheduled to have a progress review in January, but they brought it forward without notice. I hadn't prepared but was expecting them to tell me how well I was doing, as I had been running the office pretty much single-handedly. I was sorting out nurses for care homes, and when I left at night the calls were put through to my home number. Then at the meeting they told me they would not be giving me a permanent contract, and said that I wasn't right for the company. I tried to press them for a reason and they referred me to my terms and conditions. I am sure that if I hadn't fallen pregnant I wouldn't have been dismissed, and so that's why I sought legal advice. My solicitor thought I had a good case. I would advice anyone in my position to do the same. I felt that a real injustice was done to me - it was very stressful."

She is now seeking compensation under the Sexual Discrimination Act. The firm has opposed the claim.