The vast majority of companies would rather flout the law than employ a pregnant woman or one of childbearing age, a study of recruitment agencies has suggested.
The research by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation asked 122 of its members whether companies had ever told them to avoid hiring pregnant women or those of child-bearing age.
Of the 98 that replied, three-quarters – 74.6 per cent – revealed clients had said this and 25.4 per cent said they had not.
However, most of those polled – 33.6 per cent – felt generally this was an attitude shared by only a small percentage of employers, although 23.8 per cent said it was "a substantial minority" and 29.5 per cent felt it was "a good proportion".
Most – 43.8 per cent – felt this attitude was most prevalent among smaller organisations.
Some recruitment agencies said pressure from employers resulted in discrimination against pregnant women, or those of child-bearing age, when registering or putting applicants forward for a specific position.
This winter marks the 30th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to sack a woman because she is pregnant.
The REC said it was not surprised by our findings. "We have lots of meetings with our members and there are issues about people not being keen to take on women of childbearing age," said a spokesman.
Rightly or wrongly, if it was a toss up between hiring a woman in her thirties and a man in his twenties, the latter would be more likely to get the job.
The Government intends to extend statutory maternity pay from six months to nine months from April 2007, with the intention of eventually increasing it to a year.