There's more evidence that the ever-increasing burden of bureaucracy is leading employers in Britain to shun women as a new poll finds that one in five company directors have personally avoided hiring women of child-bearing age.
A survey carried out by YouGov for the legal services website TakeLegalAdvice.com has revealed that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of senior executives believe the increasing burden of legislation such as longer periods for maternity and paternity leave, age discrimination, holiday entitlements and statutory disciplinary procedures now poses a 'serious threat' to their companies.
Since April of this year, maternity legislation has allowed women to take up to 12 months maternity leave regardless of how long they have been employed in their position.
It is the latest in a series of family-friendly initiatives introduced by the government since 2003 intended to help employees balance work and family responsibilities.
But according to the survey, which quizzed almost 1,000 senior managers and directors in private sector businesses, far from helping women, companies are increasingly worried about recruiting potential mothers.
The poll revealed that almost one in five (19 per cent) of UK directors say they have personally avoided hiring women of child bearing age because of the legal risk of being caught out by constant changes in rules on maternity pay and time off.
When asked if other directors in their firms have done this the figure rises to 21 per cent.
But there are big variations in attitude depending on gender and age. Male directors say they have avoided hiring potential mothers more often (22 per cent) than women directors (13 per cent), while those aged over 55 have blocked the hiring of young women most often of any type of senior manager (29 per cent).
In contrast, young directors aged 24 to 34 are the least likely to discriminate against women, with 12 per cent admitting to such behaviour.
The poll's findings are just the latest to suggest that legislation intended to protect women in the workplace is having precisely to opposite effect. A 2004 poll found that eight out of ten HR professionals in Britain believe bosses automatically think twice before employing women of childbearing age, while separate research in 2005 revealed that a quarter of companies in Britain view maternity and paternity leave as a business risk, with seven per cent seeing it as a serious threat.
"Regulation on maternity leave and pay are meant to help working women but it's having the opposite effect," said Ruth Lea, Director of the think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies.
"The maternity leave rules have made life much more difficult for business who end up having to cope without a key person for anything up to a year and, as the report reveals one in five have avoided hiring women of child bearing age, thereby actively discriminating against women in the workplace."
More broadly, meanwhile, the YouGov survey also found that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of directors also identified growing levels of red tape as a 'serious threat' to the businesses they worked for, with half saying they cannot afford the foot the bill for compliance
Many directors openly admitted they couldn't keep up with the pace of legislation and revealed an astonishing ignorance of what could put them, personally, in jail.
Although almost three quarters (72 per cent) felt that increasing legislation is putting them in a "legally risky position", almost two thirds (64 per cent) were unaware that breaches in Competition Law could result in them ending up with a criminal prosecution, closely followed by product liability, insolvency law, data protection and tax,
Ruth Lea added that the findings suggest a genuine fear that the growing weight of regulation imposed by Government could discourage the UK's entrepreneurial spirit.
"Red tape is killing the entrepreneurial spirit in this country," she said.
"Firms cannot start, flourish and prosper if regulations and legislation are growing exponentially as they are now. The fact is fewer new companies are being created now than they were 10 years ago and the Takelegaladvice.com report shows why."