The Facts

Research from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission has found that 11% of mothers that they surveyed reported that they felt forced to leave their job.This included being dismissed (1%); made compulsorily redundant, where others were not (1%); or treated so poorly that they felt they had to leave their job (9%). If this was scaled up to the general population, this could mean as many as 54,000 mothers a year. Additionally, this research found 77% of mothers surveyed said that they had a negative or potentially discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on return from maternity leave. If scaled to the general population, this could mean as many as 390,000 mothers a year. Further, 20% of mothers said that they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and/or colleagues. Again, if this was scaled up to the general population, this may mean around 100,000 mothers a year.

Under the Equality Act, there are two types of pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

Unfavourable Treatment

Employees are protected against unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy or maternity. Unlike protections for other protected characteristic groups, there is no need for an employee to compare treatment to how someone else is treated. Therefore, negative treatment of the individual may be discriminatory even though other staff are treated the same way.

Employees that are treated unfairly because they are assumed to be pregnant, or because they are connected with someone who is pregnant or taking maternity leave are not protected under the pregnancy and maternity characteristic.


Victimisation occurs when an employee suffers a disadvantage, damage, harm or loss because of making an allegation or complaint, or supporting someone who has made a complaint about discrimination.

When you are on maternity leave

During ordinary paid maternity leave, you are entitled to the same benefits that you would get if you were working full time. This includes things like:

  • Paid holiday
  • Employers’ pension contributions
  • Health club membership
  • Participation in share schemes

You are normally, but not always, entitled to any pay rises and bonuses that you would have received if you had been working full time.

When you come back to work after having a baby

You must be allowed to return to your own job unless this is genuinely not possible: for example, if your post has become redundant while you were away. If this happens you should be offered a suitable alternative. To receive the full extent of your rights, you must tell your employer (in writing if they request) that you are pregnant, preferably as soon as you know. Find out about your company’s maternity policy. They may offer you more than your basic rights.

Employment protection for fathers

It may be unlawful sex discrimination to treat a father unfavourably for reasons associated with his partner’s pregnancy.

Difference between pregnancy and maternity discrimination and other protected characteristics

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is broken down differently to how other protected characteristics are covered, but in most cases the protections are broadly similar or stronger for pregnancy and maternity. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination protection mainly applies for a specified time known as a protected period. The law says that after the protected period has ended, an action after that time may still amount to unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy and maternity if it stemmed from an action within the protected period. After the period, the woman may be able to claim less favourable treatment because of her sex.

Information and Support

  1. NCT – Charity for parents
  2. Working Families
  3. Acas’ Report on Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination: Key points for the Workplace

Return to our main page on protected characteristics.