While pregnant women and women on maternity leave in the UK are legally protected against discrimination at work, thousands feel they have been treated unfairly by their employers.
According to a government study into new mothers and their employers, 11 per cent of women have claimed that after becoming pregnant they were dismissed, made compulsorily redundant or treated so badly they felt they had to leave their job.
This amounts to as many as 54,000 women across the UK leaving the workforce involuntarily each year. Additionally, one in five mothers said their employers or colleagues harassed them or made negative comments about their pregnancy and flexible working.
Upon returning to work, nine per cent say they were treated worse by their employer than before the pregnancy, while three in 10 say they were not allowed the flexibility they requested.
The women who reported high levels of discrimination included single mothers and those under 25, and there was a greater tendency for women in high-paid positions to be treated badly by their employers.
Some firms struggle with maternity
The research was based on over 3,000 mothers and 3,000 employers, and shows that while the majority of employers believe it is in their interests to support the statutory rights of pregnant women and those on maternity leave, some experience difficulties in accommodating their needs.
Firms least likely to support pregnant women were found to be small and in the private sector.
Industries with a particularly poor understanding of the needs of pregnant women and new mothers include construction, trade and manufacturing. Public administration and real estate, meanwhile, were found to be the most understanding.
In the report, the researchers argue many employers aren't doing enough to support pregnant women:
While only a small proportion of employers reported difficulties with issues such as managing the attitudes of other employees, evidence from the mothers’ survey suggests there is more employers could be doing.