Firms blind to pregnancy rights


Many employers in the UK are inadvertently discriminating against pregnant women by not offering them the training other employees receive.

Research into the attitudes of 450 employers by the Equal Opportunities Commission found that almost all agreed that 'women working for this organisation are positively supported during pregnancy and on return to work'.

But the survey also found that around a quarter of firms have no knowledge of any of the statutory entitlements covering pregnancy such as maternity leave or time off to attend antenatal appointments.

For example, almost one in three – 28 per cent - said that they did not believe it was worth training someone who was pregnant, despite the fact that denial of training on the grounds of pregnancy is against the law.

Another widespread complaint acknowledged by the EOC centred on planning cover during maternity leave and uncertainty over when – or if – a woman would return to work.

Last month, a report by the Institute of Directors revealed widespread discontent amongst employers about maternity leave regulations, with some employers saying that the more generous arrangements that have been in place since April 2003 were undermining relations between employees and employers.

But Jenny Watson, deputy chairwoman of the EOC, said: "Many organisations do handle pregnancy positively and as a result see business benefits, such as better retention rates and increased productivity.

"Yet the results of our new research suggest that significant numbers of employers have limited knowledge of the law, which may be preventing them from managing pregnancy effectively.

"Practical issues, such as arranging maternity cover, can also present problems for employers who want to treat pregnant employees fairly - but both large and small employers have told us that these practical difficulties can be overcome, or at least minimised, through good planning and dialogue."