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Pregnancy and Maternity discrimination

November 29th, 2010

Definition of unlawful discrimination because of pregnancy and maternity

It is unlawful to treat a pregnant woman unfavourably because of her pregnancy or because of a pregnancy related  illness. It is also unlawful to treat a woman unfavourably because she is on compulsory maternity leave.  In addition, it is also unlawful to treat a woman unfavourably becasue she is exercising, seeking to exercise, has exercised or sought to exercise the right to ordinary or additional maternity leave.

Scope of unlawful discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity

The scope of unlawful discrimination against job applicants and employees includes prohibition of discrimination in offering employment, in the terms of employment, refusing employment, in the way the employer provides access to promotion, transfer, training or receiving any other benefit, subjecting a person to a detriment or dismissing them.

In some circumstances an employer may be able to justify less favourable treatment.

It is also unlawful to victimise someone for complaining about pregnancy or maternity discrimination


Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct related to pregnancy or maternity, which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Enforcing rights

Claims of unlawful discrimination can be brought by job applicants, employees, workers, contractors, and others by issuing a claim in the Employment Tribunal. there is no qualifying period of employment before a claim can be made, but any claim must be registered with the Tribunal within 3 months of the act of discrimination, or where there has been a series of incidents which can be characterised as a single act of discrimination, within 3 months of the latest incident of discrimination.

Before sending a claim to the employment Tribunal the employee must have a certificate from ACAS confirming that conciliation has been attempted. In some circumstances, the time for bringing a claim can be extended as long as the employee has registered for pre claim conciliation with ACAS, using the mandatory ACAS Conciliation procedure within 3 months of the date of the incident complained of, but there are still strict time limits for the employee to submit the claim to the Employment Tribunal once that period of conciliation has come to an end.

Any claim to an Employment Tribunal must include certification from ACAS that conciliation has been attempted and must be accompanied by the Employment Tribunal fee or a valid and fully evidenced application for a fee remission. If any of these are missing, or if the application form has not been correctly completed or if documents or information is missing, the application will not be accepted and it will be returned to the employee.

In some circumstances a Tribunal will allow a claim to proceed even though it is brought later than 3 months from the date of the incident.  A Tribunal will weigh up the interests of the employee and employer to decide whether it is “just and equitable” to allow a late claim to be heard.

Employers are liable for the discriminatory conduct of their employees even if the employer did not know about it at the time. Exceptionally, if an employer has done all it can do to prevent unlawful discrimination, it may be able to avoid liability.

Claims can also be brought against the individuals who caused the discrimination. Employees might choose to do this because they want the individual to be liable for what they did,  if there is a risk that the employer can avoid liability, of if there is a risk of the employer’s business going into liquidation.


Parental and maternity rights page

ACAS guidance

A link to all relevant legislation.

Equality and Human rights Commission

Maternity Action

Working families


Please note that the information on this page is intended to be a guideline and is therefore a summary of the law only and not a complete guide. Before taking any action based on this information you are strongly advised to take legal advice. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained on this page is up to date and accurate, no guarantee can be given to this effect.

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