The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate, or treat workers unfavourably because of their pregnancy, pregnancy-related illness or because they have given birth recently, are breastfeeding or they are taking maternity leave.

Here are some examples of behaviour that could constitute pregnancy discrimination or maternity discrimination:

  • Disciplinary action because of pregnancy-related sickness
  • Dismissal because of pregnancy
  • Refusal to allow a reasonable amount of paid time off for antenatal appointments or asking for the time to be made up
  • Refusal to take reasonable action to remove health and safety risks that arise during pregnancy
  • Reducing the number of hours agency or zero hours contract workers are offered because of pregnancy
  • Refusing training or promotion opportunities because of pregnancy or because a woman is about to take maternity leave or is on maternity leave
  • Selecting a woman for redundancy because she is pregnant or on maternity leave
  • Not offering a woman a job because she is pregnant.

You are protected against pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace by the Equality Act 2010. It does not matter how long you have worked for your employer or what type of contract you have, you are still protected by discrimination law from day one of your employment. Employees are also protected by the Employment Rights Act 1996 against unfair dismissal and detrimental treatment because of pregnancy, childbirth and absence on maternity leave.

Any pregnancy-related sickness must be recorded separately from other sickness absence so that it is not used against you for disciplinary, dismissal or redundancy decisions. You can find more information about this here.

All employees are entitled to take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, with the right to return to the same job. You are entitled to your normal contractual terms and conditions during maternity leave, apart from the right to your normal pay.

Employees are also entitled to reasonable paid time off for antenatal care that is recommended by your midwife or GP.

You must notify your employer in writing that you are pregnant if you want your employer to take reasonable action to remove health and safety risks during your pregnancy, such as changes to your working conditions or hours of work, for example, avoiding heavy lifting or carrying and ensuring adequate rest breaks and somewhere to sit down.

Most employees and workers, including agency and zero hours contract workers, are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay. If you do not meet the qualifying conditions for SMP you may be able to claim Maternity Allowance from the Jobcentre Plus.

If your job is identified as being at risk of redundancy, a woman on maternity leave is entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy, if one exists at her workplace. You do not have to attend interviews or selection procedures. Failure to offer a suitable alternative vacancy could be unfair dismissal and may be discrimination. There is more information about this here.

Your employer is not allowed to victimise you for complaining about pregnancy or maternity discrimination.

If you are being treated unfavourably at work because of your pregnancy or maternity leave, it is a good idea to try and keep a detailed record of events, including times and dates, and keep copies of emails, letters and minutes of meetings. If you seek medical advice as a result of your treatment at work you should keep a record of this.

It is a good idea to get advice as soon as possible so that you can talk through the best way to resolve the issue and so that you know what your rights are. The law in this area is complex and it may be helpful to provide your employer with further information about your rights. You can get free and confidential advice from the organisations listed below.

If you want to report it, what options do you have?

It is often a good idea to try to resolve the issue informally at first, if you are able to, by speaking to your line manager or Human Resources Department, if there is one. If it is your manager who is discriminating against you, you can speak to someone higher in the organisation.

If this is not successful, you can make a more formal complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure.

If you are unable to resolve it you can make an employment tribunal claim. You must make the claim within 3 months (less one day) of the date of the discrimination, for example, the date you were dismissed or disciplined or made redundant. You may have to pay fees to bring a discrimination claim but you can apply for a fee waiver if you are on a low income. 

If you are thinking of making a tribunal claim, you must contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) first in order to try to settle the dispute using their free Early Conciliation service. If you and your employer are unable to reach a settlement you can start an employment tribunal claim by completing an ET1 claim form.

What if you don’t want to report officially?

If you feel able to you should try talking to your colleagues or managers. It may be helpful to talk through problems at work with a friend, partner or adviser first. There is more information about this here. You may also want to discuss it with your trade union representative or someone from the Human Resources Department. 

If you feel that your manager or senior managers are discriminating against you it may be helpful to send them information on your rights during pregnancy and maternity leave and ask your trade union representative or Human Resources Department to talk to your managers for you.

If you have a union rep, then letting them know what is happening at the earliest opportunity will allow them to support you. If you are not yet a union member you can find a union here.

You can get free specialist advice and information on maternity rights and benefits from Maternity Action. Advice Line: 0845 600 85 33

You can get free advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau. Their information about pregnancy and maternity discrimination can be found here.

The Acas helpline (0300 123 11 00) is open Monday – Friday 8am–8pm and Saturday 9am–1pm

Rights of Women offers information about the law and your legal rights. Their telephone lines provide confidential advice. If you are deaf or hard of hearing you can call them using the RNID’s TypeTalk service. You can text them on 18001 0800 500 888, call them on 0800 7311 888 or email them at helpline@rnid-typetalk.org.uk.

ACAS guidance on pregnancy and maternity discrimination:

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has lots of useful resources on their website about managing pregnancy and maternity in the workplace.

The Equality Advisory Service provides advice on human rights and discrimination. Advice line: 0808 800 0082 Textphone: 0808 800 0084

Employment Tribunal customer contact centre

Telephone: 0300 123 1024 (England and Wales)
Telephone: 0141 354 8574 (Scotland)
Textphone: 18001 0300 123 1024 (England and Wales)
Textphone: 18001 0141 354 8574 (Scotland)

This information was compiled in collaboration with
Maternity Action.