SBT’s Features Editor takes a look at women’s rights surrounding the topic of pregnancy at work, along with the frequent problems and unanswered questions pregnant women face during their every day jobs
Recent studies have shown that in the UK, approximately 440,000 women every year pursue work right through their pregnancy. Not only this, it was also revealed that around two-thirds of these women return to work very soon after giving birth, proving that pregnant and sleep-deprived mothers are just as determined and hard-working as the next person. However, unfortunately almost half of these women experience some kind of disadvantage or maltreatment during working hours, simply due to falling pregnant or taking maternity leave – both every woman’s right.
This has become a heated topic after an increasing number of women seem to be losing out on existing or future job prospects because of their pregnancies. One case study mentioned on BBC Radio earlier this year focused on a woman whose desired and much-deserved promotion was taken away from her after informing her boss that she was pregnant, shining a very negative light on what should be a celebration.
Here at SBT, we are firm believers that pregnancy is not a disadvantage to a woman’s productivity, nor is it a disadvantage to a business. Instead of CEOs and managers dismissing pregnant women due to their condition, women should be offered alternative working conditions to best suit their job role as well as their general welfare.
After hearing many stories about pregnancy and maternity discrimination taking place in the working environment, Joeli Brearley founded the ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ project, which supports women facing these problems and exposes the frequency of this ongoing issue. Speaking to us on this topic, Jeoli spoke passionately: “The project is run by a group of impassioned volunteers and we now have a large community of women who want to fight for recognition, respect and change.”
The main mission of ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ is to completely eliminate pregnancy and maternity discrimination, as well as ‘protecting and empowering its victims’, according to the Pregnant Then Screwed website. (www.pregnantthenscrewed.com).
“A recent report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission shows that the number of women who lose their jobs for getting pregnant has almost doubled, as has the number of working mothers reporting discrimination,” stated Joeli. “The language used by businesses when discussing pregnancy is negative; pregnancy is seen as a burden to the workplace and this means that 50% of discrimination cases start from the moment a women announces she is pregnant. Despite this, research has shown that if companies look after pregnant women and new mothers, they will reap the benefits through loyalty, dedication and hard work.”
Joeli, who is a mother herself, then went on to speak about her own experience of unfairness in the work environment, which led her to struggles in her day-to-day life: “I was sacked by my employer two days after I informed them of my pregnancy. The experience had a negative effect on my mental health and it wasn’t until after I had my baby and started to meet other mums that I realised how systematic this problem was.”
Businesses everywhere will plainly know the ‘risks’ that come along with taking on female employees – it is foreseeable that at some point, your female workers could fall pregnant, so why are women so frequently penalised just for carrying new life? And what actually are your rights as a pregnant woman or a mother on maternity leave?
According to the government website, pregnant employees have four main legal rights; paid time off for antenatal care, maternity leave, maternity pay or allowance and protection against unfair treatment or discrimination – something a large amount of businesses seem to dismiss. Additionally, company owners or managers are obliged to assess the possible risks to the woman and her baby, for example; heavy lifting, standing or sitting for long periods of time, long working hours and exposure to toxic or harmful substances. Once a risk assessment has been completed, it is then the job of the employer to take adequate steps in removing these risks, whether it is by changing the employee’s working hours or offering a different kind work. If an employer is to ignore or dismiss these factors, they are at risk of breach of contract, which is why it is especially important that both women and businesses know and understand the legalities surrounding this issue.
Joeli concludes: “For employers, pregnancy can feel like a challenge but with the right attitude and through good communication, you can eliminate any negative impact this could have on your business, leaving you with a happy and dedicated member of the team.”
For details surrounding your legal obligations as an employer or your rights an employee, visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission website: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/managing-pregnancy-and-maternity-workplace/help-and-support-employers
You can also visit www.pregnantthenscrewed.com or visit their twitter page, @pregnantscrewed for more information.