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Equality expert comments on the EHRC's findings

Comment by Peninsula Head of Advisory Kate Palmer

Discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity was explicitly included within the law in 2010. However, women were afforded protection against detrimental treatment for these reasons for many years before. A recent study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has shown that, despite the longstanding prohibition, employers still make recruitment decisions based on a female candidate’s plans to have a family and find pregnancy a “burden” in the workplace.

Asking questions in a recruitment interview about a plans to have children in the future should be avoided. It emphatically announces the employer’s intention to factor the response into their decision over who gets the job: someone who is likely to have a year out of the business at some point or someone who is not. Making decisions based on pregnancy, or likely pregnancy, is unlawful.

Employers may be under the impression that, because the female candidate is not actually pregnant at the time of the interview, that the anti-discrimination laws do not kick in yet. Or that because the candidate does not actually work for them yet, the law does not apply. But they would be wrong. Employers must do more to realise the wide scope of discrimination laws to protect themselves against Employment Tribunal claims and the subsequent impact on brand reputation.

A good starting point would be to consider current policies within a company and ensure that they are written from the point of view of protecting new and expectant mothers. Ask yourself: would our current practices mean that a new or expectant other would receive unfair treatment? This question should be asked for all processes from recruitment to termination and sometimes beyond, e.g. when giving references. If the answer is yes, then make a change.

It appears the Government must do more to dispel the seemingly common thought that women are less committed to work after having a baby. It must also do more to make clear to employers that questions asked at interview can lead to claims of discrimination at Employment Tribunal, the process for which is now without cost to the employee.