The continuing failure of many UK employers to follow the discrimination regulations, especially the law on the rights of pregnant women and new mothers, is emphasized in a new government-backed study.
The report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the public body that enforces laws protecting employees’ rights, has renewed appeals to the government to help employers to understand their responsibilities and treat women in the workplace responsibly.
The commission’s researchers, assisted by the government business department, recorded that the number of women reporting illegal discrimination related to pregnancy and motherhood increased between 2005 and 2015.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, the Commission’s chief executive, observed: “We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant.
“Yet we also know women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews.”
The researchers, who polled 1,106 business decision-makers, said many employers were “living in the Dark Ages”.
They found more negative attitudes among more than half of employers with up to 250 staff, and more than a third even of larger businesses thought it reasonable to ask women applicants whether they had young children.
Male and older recruiters were the guiltiest of negative attitudes.
The study hinted that the negativity was not entirely produced by employers’ prejudice. Half of managers aged 55 and older thought women who had had more than one pregnancy in the same job could be “a burden to their team”. Two fifths replied that pregnancy in the workplace created “an unnecessary cost”, and just over half said colleagues felt resentful towards women who were pregnant or on maternity leave.
Nevertheless, 76 per cent of the employers in the study agreed that “supporting pregnant women and those on maternity leave is in the best interests of the organization”.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the UK body specializing in human resources and personal development, said: “There are still far too many employers who don’t understand or respect employment law as it relates to pregnant women and new mothers.
“Investment in manager capability is essential to challenge unlawful, short-sighted and unethical practice.”