The Independent reports that in the UK, 14% of women who take maternity leave are either unable to return to their jobs or find their positions or responsibilities undermined because of discrimination by employers. Maternity discrimination in the workplace is prohibited by the 2010 Equality Act.
One law firm did a survey of 1,000 mothers and found that “more than a quarter said they were unsure of their rights and what they could and couldn’t expect of their employer when they returned to work. Nearly half said that the role they had previously performed had changed since they took maternity leave, with one in 20 accepting a completely different job role within a company.
More than a quarter of women had their request for flexible hours refused. Some are told that they cannot do their old job part-time and are forced into roles with less responsibility while others are effectively constructively dismissed. Those who do return to the same job sometimes find it harder to get promotion, leading to a growing pay gap between men and women in later life.”
The paper noted that the Labour Party “intends to make maternity rights a key issue in the run-up to the next election,” given these new findings, as well as new rules which require payment of fees of £1,200 for women to file a maternity discrimination case with the employment tribunal,
A Labour Minister who took maternity leave while in office wrote “[When I had] my third child, senior civil servants treated [my] maternity leave with hostility, making it hard to keep in touch, and trying to change my job and working arrangements while I was away. It was sorted eventually, but it shouldn’t have been a battle. The last thing you feel up to in the final hot and bothered weeks of a summer pregnancy, or the baby’s early sleepless months, is another argument about your job.”
The Law Society Gazette, on the other hand, quoted an employment lawyer as saying “Disputes often arise for more subtle reasons than it simply being a case of discrimination,” such as increased job competition after women have been away from the workplace for 12 months.