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Discrimination at work because of pregnancy or maternity leave

What is discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity leave

If you work and are pregnant or are on maternity leave you have greater rights and protections.

One of these rights is that your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you, either because you are pregnant or because you’re on maternity leave. This means that your employer can’t dismiss you, demote you or discipline you either because of your pregnancy or maternity leave. This is known as discrimination because of pregnancy and maternity leave.

For example, it would be pregnancy and maternity leave discrimination if you were dismissed or disciplined:

  • because you have asked to take time off to attend ante-natal classes
  • because you are unable to do your job during your pregnancy for health and safety reasons
  • because you asked to take maternity leave or you are on maternity leave.

If you are treated unfairly because you are pregnant or on maternity leave, there are things you can do about it, including raising a grievance with your employer or making a claim to an employment tribunal.

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Examples of discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity leave

Here are some examples of situations where your employer may be found to have discriminated against you because you're pregnant or on maternity leave:

  • if you are suspended from work by your employer for health and safety reasons and do not receive full pay
  • if you are dismissed because your employer says they can't afford to pay you statutory maternity pay
  • if you’re unable to go to a disciplinary meeting due to an illness connected with your pregnancy and your employer refuses to re-arrange the meeting
  • if you're disciplined for having performance issues due to an illness connected with your pregnancy
  • if your employer fails to carry out a health and safety risk assessment, forcing you to resign
  • if your employer demotes or dismisses you, or stops you from having training or promotion opportunities, because you are pregnant or on maternity leave
  • if your employer chooses you for redundancy because you are pregnant
  • if your employer decides to make people redundant while you're on maternity leave but doesn't consult with you about it.

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Your rights to pay and other terms and conditions during your pregnancy and maternity leave

You have the right to keep the same terms and conditions while you’re on maternity leave. However, you don’t have an automatic right to carry on getting your full pay, unless your contract of employment says you do. If you don’t get full pay during maternity leave, this is not pregnancy or maternity discrimination and it isn’t sex discrimination either.

If you’re off work sick because of your pregnancy, you don’t have an automatic right to carry on getting your full pay. You do have the right to be paid whatever your employment contract says you should get when you’re off work sick.

For more information about your rights when you’re on maternity leave, see Maternity leave.

For more information about sex discrimination at work, see Sex discrimination and sexual harassment at work [Adobe Acrobat Document 55 KB].

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Time off sick for pregnancy and your sickness record

Time that you take off sick because of an illness resulting from your pregnancy, such as high blood-pressure, shouldn’t count towards your sickness record at work. This includes any time you take off because of a miscarriage.

If you are  disciplined or dismissed because of your sickness record when you're pregnant, this may be discrimination. You should get advice.

If your employer decides to dismiss you for taking too much time off sick when that time was due to being pregnant, this is likely to be pregnancy and maternity discrimination. You can make a claim to an employment tribunal about this.

If you take time off because of an illness connected with your pregnancy, or because of a miscarriage, this should be recorded. You might want to keep your own records of time you have taken off sick because of your pregnancy.

Not all time taken off sick when you’re pregnant may be to do with your pregnancy. For example, you may have a cold or the flu. If you’re off sick for a reason which has nothing to do with your pregnancy, this can be treated the same as the usual sick pay policy.

Example

You’re pregnant and have been off sick with a pregnancy-related illness since early in your pregnancy. Your employer dismisses you because their sickness policy says you can’t be off work sick for more than 20 weeks in a row. If all of this time off was due to pregnancy-related illness, this is discrimination.

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Time off for ante-natal care

If you are pregnant, you are entitled to paid time off for ante-natal care. Ante-natal care can include medical examinations, relaxation and parenting classes.

Your employer must allow you to take time off for ante-natal appointments and to pay you for this time as long as what you’re asking for is reasonable.

Example

You’ve booked time off to go to a medical appointment related to your pregnancy. Your employer insists this time must be made up for through flexi-time arrangements or your pay will be docked. This is pregnancy discrimination. You can make a complaint to your employer by taking out a grievance and, if necessary, making a claim to an employment tribunal.

If you’re the partner of a pregnant woman, you don’t have the right to paid time off to go to ante natal  appointments. However your employer may choose to give you this time off or you may be able to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave.

For more information about the right to time off for ante-natal care, see Parental rights at work.

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Do you have a right to time off work to have fertility treatment?

If you’re a woman, you don’t have a right to paid time off for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or any other fertility treatment.

However, if you are dismissed or treated unfavourably because you are having IVF treatment, this may count as sex discrimination. You should get advice.

Once a fertilised embryo has been implanted, you will be legally pregnant. You will then be entitled to time off for ante-natal care as well as all the protection from discrimination that other pregnant women are entitled to.

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Applying for a job if you are pregnant or on maternity leave

An employer can’t refuse to employ you just because you’re pregnant. They should base their decision on whether you have the skills to do the job, not on whether you are pregnant.

You don’t have to tell the employer that you’re pregnant when you apply for the job. If you do tell the employer you are pregnant at interview and are not offered the job because of this then this will be pregnancy discrimination.

If you don't tell the employer that you're pregnant and they give you the job, they must not dismiss you when they find out about the pregnancy.

Example

You apply for a job as a training instructor. On the basis of your application form and interview, the employer decides you are the best person for the job and offers it to you. But, you’ve just found out you’re pregnant and tell the employer when you accept the offer. The employer changes their mind and withdraws the job offer. This is discrimination and can't be justified. You can make a claim about it to an employment tribunal.

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What can you do about pregnancy and maternity discrimination?

If you are experiencing pregnancy and maternity discrimination, take action as quickly as possible.

  • tell your manager what is happening. Put it in writing and keep a copy. Your employer is required by law to protect you from pregnancy and maternity discrimination. If it is your manager who is discriminating against you, tell someone higher up in the organisation
  • talk to your personnel department or trade union. They might be able to help you stop the discrimination
  • get advice. A Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help or refer you to a specialist
  • collect evidence. This could include keeping a diary or record of the time, date and location of any incidents, what was said or done, who was involved, if there were any witnesses and evidence of any similar incidents against other colleagues.

You may find it helps to have the support of a colleague or trade union representative when you take some of this action.

Taking out a grievance

If you are unable to solve your problem informally, you may want to make a formal written complaint to your employer, using a grievance procedure. If your workplace does not have a grievance procedure, then you can use the ACAS grievance procedure.

 Although the law can help protect you, you should be aware that if you make a formal complaint, there is a risk of this making your life at work more difficult.

Going to an employment tribunal

If you have not been able to solve your problem through using a grievance procedure, you may want to make a claim for pregnancy and maternity discrimination to an employment tribunal. If you want to make a claim for discrimination, you've usually only got three months less one day to get your claim in to the tribunal. The three months start from the date of the last time you were discriminated against or harassed. This time limit is strictly enforced, so get advice early on.

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Making a claim to an employment tribunal for pregnancy and maternity discrimination

To make a claim to an employment tribunal for pregnancy and maternity discrimination:

  • you must usually do this no later than three months less one day after the last time the discrimination took place
  • you don't need to have worked for your employer for any particular length of time
  • your employer must have known you were pregnant
  • you will need to prove your case.

There is no upper limit to the amount of compensation you can be awarded by an employment tribunal in a pregnancy and maternity discrimination case.

Proving your case

You will have to provide evidence to prove your case.

This could include evidence of the time, date and location of any incidents, what was said or done, who was involved, if there were any witnesses and evidence of any similar incidents against other colleagues. If you've kept a diary or record of the incidents which occurred, this will help your case.

You can also ask your employer to provide information through a questionnaire procedure. This may also help to support your case. There are strict time limits involved. You may need to get advice to help you do this.

For more information about making a claim to an employment tribunal, see Employment tribunals.

How is making a claim for pregnancy or maternity discrimination different from sex discrimination

Making a claim for pregnancy and maternity discrimination is different from making a sex discrimination claim. In some ways it is more straightforward.

If you want to make a claim for sex discrimination, you have to prove that you have been treated less favourably than another person in the same workplace who is not the same sex as you or not pregnant.

However, if you want to make a claim for pregnancy and maternity discrimination, you don't have to show that you've been treated less favourably than someone else in the same workplace as you.

For example

You are dismissed because you have taken three months off sick for a reason connected with your pregnancy. You make a claim to an employment tribunal for pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Your employer tries to defend the claim by arguing that they would have dismissed another employee who had been off sick for three months with a broken leg. This argument would not be accepted by the employment tribunal. The tribunal would find that you have been discriminated against because of your pregnancy. The fact that your employers say they would have treated another employee the same way would be beside the point.

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What happens if you’re victimised for making a complaint?

Your employer is not allowed to victimise you for complaining about pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work. If anyone at work does victimise you for complaining, or helping a colleague to do so, you can make a claim for unlawful victimisation to an employment tribunal. If you want to do this, get advice early on.

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Further help

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Employees and employers can find more information about their rights and responsibilities on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) website at www.bis.gov.uk.

Maternity Action

Employees and employers can contact Maternity Action for more information about their rights and responsibilities. You can call a helpline that gives advice and information about rights and entitlements during pregnancy, maternity leave and returning to work. There are also free factsheets you can download from their website.

Telephone: 0845 600 8533 (Wednesday: 3pm – 7pm; Thursday: 3pm – 7pm; Friday: 10am – 2pm)
Website: www.maternityaction.org.uk

Working Families

Working Families helps parents and employers find a better balance between home and work life. It provides fact sheets and advice on family-friendly rights and runs a helpline for families on low incomes providing advice on legal rights, benefits and working family-friendly hours.

Cambridge House
1 Addington Square
London
SE5 0HF

Low income families helpline: 0300 012 0312
Email for advice: advice@workingfamilies.org.uk
Email: office@workingfamilies.org.uk (admin only)
Website: www.workingfamilies.org.uk

Rights of Women (England and Wales only)

Rights of Women is a women's voluntary organisation committed to informing, educating and empowering women about their legal rights. It has free confidential advice lines that gives specialist advice in family law, divorce, relationship breakdown, children and contact issues, domestic and sexual violence, discrimination and lesbian parenting.

52-54 Featherstone Street
London
EC1 8RT

Telephone: 0207 251 6575 (admin only)
Textphone: 0207 490 2562

Family law advice line: 020 7251 6577 (Monday 11am-1pm; Tuesday and Wednesday 2pm-4pm and 7pm-9pm; Thursday 7pm-9pm; Friday 12 noon-2pm)

Criminal law advice line: 020 7251 8887 (Tuesday 11am-1pm; Thursday 2pm-4pm)

Immigration and asylum law advice line: 020 7490 7689 (Monday 2pm-4pm; Wednesday 11am-1pm)

Ascent advice line for women and advisors in London

Family law advice line: 020 7608 1137 (Monday 11am-1pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 2pm-4pm)

Criminal law and sexual violance advice line: 020 7608 1137 (Thursday 2pm-4pm)

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

More about the EASS helpline

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at www.equalityhumanrights.com.

Acas

Acas works with both employers and employees to solve workplace problems.

You can phone the Acas helpline on: 0300 123 1100 and speak to an advisor about your employment problems. The helpline is open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

The Acas website at www.acas.org.uk has lots of useful information about how to sort out workplace problems. This includes the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance

procedures which all employers and employees should follow when they are trying to sort out problems at work. To download a copy of the Code, go to: www.acas.org.uk.

Is that discrimination?

Is that discrimination? is a website produced by Advicenow. It has information on how to tackle discrimination in the workplace. It also features a problem page and case studies about discrimination. Go to www.isthatdiscrimination.org.uk.

On Adviceguide

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Citizens Advice

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