Some 30,000 women in Briton are sacked, made redundant or encouraged to leave their jobs due to pregnancy discrimination, a new survey has suggested.
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) says that despite the existence of legislation to protect pregnant women, half the 1,000 women questioned for its research reported some level of bias against them.
One in 20 (5 per cent) said that they were put under pressure to hand in their notice as soon as they announced their pregnancy.
A fifth (21 per cent) said they lost out financially due to discrimination. This included losing their salary when they lost their job, having their salary cut or being given a lower pay rise than colleagues.
Overall, the EOC concludes that almost half (45 per cent) of women who had worked while pregnant in the past three years said they experienced some form of discrimination because of their pregnancy.
The retail sector emerged as the most likely to discriminate against pregnant women, with 53 per cent of respondents working in the sector reporting discrimination.
Those working in a financial services were least likely to encounter discrimination, with 42 per cent saying they had encountered problems.
But the survey found only a small difference between the rate of discrimination encountered by women working in manual jobs and those in managerial and professional roles.
EOC chair, Julie Mellor, described the findings as "shocking".
"Women should not be penalised simply for being pregnant. The impact on women, their partners and families, and on the health of their baby can be disastrous."
"Although some employers knowingly flout the law, many businesses do face genuine challenges in managing pregnancy and simply don't know what their responsibilities are or what help is available to them.
"We need urgent action from the Government to provide more information and support for pregnant employees and their employers."
The survey results was released as part of the EOC's campaign to end the unlawful treatment of pregnant women at work.
As part of this, the Commission called for the government to provide a written statement of maternity rights and employer responsibilities to every pregnant woman, with a tear-off section for her to give to her employer. It also suggested that employers be given a 'right to request' women to indicate their planned return date much earlier during maternity leave where possible
The Peter Firth of the Federation of Small Businesses, who sits on the EOC's pregnancy taskforce, said that the entire maternity system needed an overhaul.
Mothers on maternity leave should update their employer on a monthly basis whether and when they intend to return to work, he said, while Statutory Maternity Pay should be paid directly to mothers by the government rather than via employers.
"New and expectant mothers can face problems at work and there needs to be a sensible debate," he said.
"The reality is that mothers and pregnant women can experience discrimination in the workplace. But the reality is also that employers find administering maternity rights a headache.”
"The system needs an urgent overhaul. The government should take back responsibility for paying Statutory Maternity Pay, and open the door for more dialogue between mother and employer about when she expects to return to work.”