Former Government Minister proposes legislation protecting pregnant women and new mothers from redundancy

Women could be protected from redundancy during pregnancy and in the months following a birth, miscarriage or stillbirth under new legislation proposed by the former chair of the House of Commons Women and Equalities committee.

Yesterday, on Wednesday 8 July, Maria Miller MP presented the Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill in the House of Commons.

Introducing the Ten Minute Rule Bill, the former Conservative Government Minister said: “The Government should be applauded for creating an environment where we have record numbers of women in work, but we need to update our laws to reflect that change, to address the challenges that women routinely face and to ensure that we level up the workplace for all women.”

Maria Miller’s proposed legislation, which has cross-party support, seeks to prohibit redundancy during pregnancy and maternity leave and for six months after the end of the pregnancy or leave apart from in specified circumstances.

The former Culture Secretary attempted to introduce legislation protecting pregnant women and new mothers last year, but it didn’t progress past the First Reading.

In a comment piece for the Telegraph, outlining why she was reintroducing the Bill, Maria Miller said: “The pandemic has shown too many employers fail to provide the basic protection pregnant women and new mums are entitled to by law. Now more than ever we need protections for pregnant women and new mums with real teeth that will also change employers’ ingrained attitudes.”

“We should hang our heads in shame at the way pregnant women and new mums are treated at work,” she added.

Sacked and silenced

A study, conducted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in 2019, found that one in nine women have been fired or made redundant, or were treated so badly they felt forced out of their job, after going back to work from maternity leave.

The report estimated over 50,000 women each year may lose their role at work because of pregnancy or maternity.

It also found that over 75% of pregnant women and new mothers in the workforce experience some form of discrimination or negative treatment during pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work from leave. This is up from 45% of women in 2005.

Additionally, only around a quarter (28%) of those women raised the issue with their employer, only 3% went through their employer’s internal grievance procedure, and less than 1% pursued a claim to the employment tribunal.

The less than 1% of women who do go ahead to an employment tribunal are often ‘sacked and silenced’.

Pregnant women singled out for redundancy and furlough

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, a quarter of pregnant women or new mothers have experienced unfair treatment at work, including being singled out for redundancy or furlough, according to a study of 3,400 women by the TUC.

Additionally, according to PWC research published in May, 78% of those who have already lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic are women.

Collateral damage

Rosalind Bragg, director of Maternity Action, a national pregnancy charity, told The Independent their helplines had been inundated with calls from despairing pregnant women.

She said: “During the lockdown, we had a lot of calls of women concerned about unsafe working conditions. But now on our advice lines, we have any number of women who are fearful of being laid off or who have been laid off. Many businesses are contracting and historically pregnant women have been among the first to be laid off. This is unlawful. But unfortunately, it is all too common.”

Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, added that pregnant women and new mothers are “the first to be pushed out of their job” when a business is making cuts.

She said: “Pregnant women are viewed as distracted and that they can’t be committed to their job if they are about to take some time out of their career to care for a new baby.”

“When women return from maternity leave, they are also extremely vulnerable as the business has been operating without them for the last nine months so they’re not at the forefront of an employer’s mind. Without enhanced protection these vulnerable women will be collateral damage as our economy contracts and the country descends into recession. This will increase child poverty and set maternal employment rates back decades. Protecting their employment is good for the economy and it is good for families.’’

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Negative workplace attitudes towards pregnancy and motherhood could cause women to feel pressure to have an abortion. No woman should have to face such pressure.

“Cases like these are, sadly, becoming commonplace and offer further proof that the culture needs to change to support expectant and new mothers in the workplace and beyond.

“Maria Miller’s Ten Minute Rule Motion presented this week demonstrates willingness and concern in Westminster to change the negative bias towards pregnant women in the labour market. 

“Whilst backbench bills of this kind are unlikely to be made law directly, this sends an important signal to the Government that the UK does not currently offer adequate legal protection for pregnant women in the workplace. It is therefore greatly encouraging that these steps are being taken to provide greater economic security for pregnant women, particularly at this critical time where many mothers are facing redundancy.”

Bank clerk sacked over distressing miscarriage awarded £20k in compensation

A bank clerk who was sacked after she had a miscarriage at work has been awarded almost £20k in compensation.

Santander forced Chi Agbaje out of her job at one of Santander’s High Street branches after she became distressed at the prospect of losing her baby and collapsed.

The bank accused Chi of acting in a “wholly unacceptable” manner during the incident and fired her for gross misconduct.

However, an employment tribunal ruled she was unfairly dismissed and ordered the bank to pay her £19,702 in compensation.

Chi began to experience severe abdominal pain and bleeding while serving customers at the Santander branch in Bexleyheath, London.

She told her manager she was unable to carry on with her work and moved to the staff canteen area where she became uncommunicative while displaying considerable distress.

Chi then rushed to the bathroom as she felt increased bleeding and pain. It was there Chi realised she was having a miscarriage, resulting in cries of distress that could be heard from the banking hall – where customers are served.

She then collapsed on the floor after leaving the bathroom during the incident on March 7 2014, the Cambridge Employment Tribunal was told.

Her manager took time to photograph and record Chi, while she was immobile, and waited over twenty minutes before calling the emergency services.

Mrs Agbaje, who works as a Customer Support Adviser, was rushed to a nearby hospital where it was confirmed she had lost her baby.

Once Chi returned to work later that year, she was asked to leave and return the following week. When she returned on the requested date, Chi was suspended by her manager and informed that she was being investigated for gross misconduct.

During her suspension, Chi became pregnant again and took maternity leave. When she returned in March 2016 she found herself being interviewed as part of the disciplinary process.

She told investigators her behaviour was due to the frustration of losing her baby, saying: “when I was in the toilet and saw the blood that I screamed and I was crying. I did not want to lose my baby. My behaviour was due to me thinking I was miscarrying”.

A disciplinary hearing, chaired by Managing Director Andrew Briggs, dismissed Chi for gross misconduct concluding that there was “insufficient evidence” her actions were as a result of a miscarriage despite a London Ambulance report which confirmed bleeding and miscarriage.

Santander Senior Executive Christopher Fallis, who chaired her subsequent appeal, agreed with Mr Briggs’s conclusions and described her actions as “wholly unacceptable”.

In his ruling at the Employment Tribunal, Judge Michael Ord criticised branch staff for being more concerned with “balancing the tills” than ensuring their colleague was being cared for.

He said: “The Tribunal have found it difficult to understand how a woman in those circumstances can be criticised for not behaving ‘professionally’ when suffering a miscarriage.”

A Santander spokesperson said “they were immediately passed on and reviewed to avoid such failings happening again.”

Sadly, cases of maternity discrimination like these have become prevalent in recent years.

Earlier this year, a mother of two was awarded over £17,000 by an employment tribunal after being fired from her position at a beauty firm Liz Earle while she was eight months pregnant.

Another Employment Tribunal ruled in favour of an NHS worker who was discriminated against after her manager asked “objectively inappropriate and upsetting” questions about her pregnancy.

A report from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy estimates that as many as 54,000 women each year may be fired or otherwise lose their role because of pregnancy or motherhood. 

It also found that over three-quarters percent of pregnant women and new mothers in the workforce experience some form of discrimination or negative treatment during pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work from leave. This is up from 45% of women in 2005.

Additionally, only around a quarter (28%) of those women raised the issue with their employer, only 3% went through their employer’s internal grievance procedure, and less than 1% pursued a claim to the employment tribunal.

The 1% who do go ahead to an employment tribunal are often ‘sacked and silenced’.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Negative workplace attitudes towards pregnancy and motherhood could pressure women to have an abortion . No woman should have to face such pressure.

“Cases like these are, sadly, becoming commonplace and are further proof that the culture urgently needs to change to support mothers in the workplace.

“Ahead of the election, tens of thousands of our supporters urged MP candidates to sign the Both Lives Pledge, which outlined three policy changes designed to increase protection for babies in the womb and end pregnancy discrimination for women.

“We will continue to work closely with parliamentarians to campaign for positive changes and are hopeful that Mrs Larkin’s case will send a strong message to employers and colleagues that they should be considering how they can better support pregnant women in the workplace.”

Pregnant NHS worker wins case after facing workplace pregnancy discrimination

An employment tribunal has ruled an NHS worker was discriminated against after her manager asked “objectively inappropriate and upsetting” questions about her pregnancy. 

The tribunal also stated that comments directed at Haddi Camara during a protected period were objectively unfavourable to her. 

A remedy hearing, to decide whether Haddi should receive compensation and how much compensation, was scheduled for a different day.

Haddi’s line manager, Paulette Douglas-Obobi, initially congratulated Haddi on her pregnancy.

However, one day after her announcement Paulette asked Haddi “did you plan this?” and “will this have to come out of my budget?”, in reference to the cost of maternity leave and other maternity benefits.

One day later, on 27 April 2018, Paulette asked Human Resources if the claimant was entitled as bank staff to the same maternity benefits as a substantive staff member.

That same day, another manager also emailed Human Resources to say “I have a query about a band 4 admin bank staff who does not seem to be working [o]ut well and we have been thinking of replacing her.‘’

Three months later, Haddi had her contract of employment terminated and was given just four weeks’ notice.

Earlier this month, a mother of two was awarded over £17,000 by an employment tribunal after being fired from her position at beauty firm Liz Earle while she was eight months pregnant.

Sadly, cases of maternity discrimination like these have become prevalent in recent years.

A report from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy estimates that as many as 54,000 women each year may be fired or otherwise lose their role because of pregnancy or motherhood. 

It also found that over three-quarters percent of pregnant women and new mothers in the workforce experience some form of discrimination or negative treatment during pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work from leave. This is up from 45% of women in 2005.

Additionally, only around a quarter (28%) of those women raised the issue with their employer, only 3% went through their employer’s internal grievance procedure, and less than 1% pursued a claim to the employment tribunal.

The 1% who do go ahead to an employment tribunal are often ‘sacked and silenced’.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Negative workplace attitudes towards pregnancy and motherhood could pressure women to have an abortion they may otherwise not have had. No woman should have to face such pressure.

“Cases like these are, sadly, becoming commonplace and are just further proof that the culture needs to change to support mothers in the workplace.”

Sacked pregnant mother of two awarded £17,000 compensation raising fresh concerns over maternity discrimination

A mother of two has been awarded over £17,000 by an employment tribunal after being fired from her position at beauty firm Liz Earle while she was eight months pregnant, raising fresh concerns over maternity discrimination.

Helen Larkin, 38, had worked for Liz Earle for five years but was given just two weeks’ notice of her redundancy when her job was terminated in June 2018.

Mrs Larkin revealed she was not interviewed for two new digital marketing roles at the company, even though they were similar to the job she had been doing, and the company had specifically hidden one job role from her.

Liz Earle, which was ordered to pay Mrs Larkin £17,303, claimed the redundancy was not discrimination but part of a restructuring in which three other roles were terminated.

However, Mrs Larkin told the hearing she believed her redundancy was rushed through before her maternity leave when she would have fallen into a protected period of employment.

Mrs Larkin, who represented herself in the tribunal, said she felt “a responsibility to stand up and speak out” and empower other women to speak up after being contacted by hundreds of women who had been “silenced”.

Speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, she said: “It has cast a massive shadow over my maternity leave and it was very distressing […] I feel now that I can move on and focus on my family.

“I felt a responsibility to stand up for other women and talk about the scope and breadth of this issue because it affects so many people within Liz Earle and in other companies elsewhere.”

Joeli Brearley, founder of campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed which helped Mrs Larkin, told the Independent: “This is a monumental win not only for Helen but for women everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of women across the UK are cheering Helen on: women who have faced their own version of pregnancy or maternity discrimination but, due to cost, time limits, stress, mental health issues or the sheer complexity of managing a tribunal claim and a new baby, were unable to challenge their employer.

“Taking a case of pregnancy or maternity discrimination to tribunal isn’t easy. You have three months less one day to raise the claim; the costs can be horrifically expensive with a straightforward case costing between £5,000 and £10,000, and more complex cases costing upwards of £30,000; and the stress and strain on new mums can be totally overwhelming. Companies often have finances and legal representation that far outweigh that of the victim, making it feel like David vs Goliath.”

These factors lead to only one per cent of those who experience pregnancy or maternity discrimination raising a tribunal claim, the campaigner said.

Findings from interviews conducted with over 3,000 employers and over 3,000 mothers show that an alarming 77% of women report having “a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on return from maternity leave.” More specifically, “half of mothers… described a negative impact on their opportunity, status or job security,” with 1 in 9 mothers stating “they felt forced to leave their job”.

Ms Brearley added the public rarely hears about cases such as Ms Larkin’s due to firms using “powerful and legal tools” to “gag and silence” their victims.

A report from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy estimates that as many as 54,000 women each year may be fired or otherwise lose their role because of pregnancy or motherhood. 

The Government responded to the report by revealing plans to extend the redundancy protection period by a further 6 months. The Government also announced that they would be establishing a taskforce to make recommendations on improvements on how to increase awareness amongst pregnant women and new mothers of their maternity rights.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Experiencing pregnancy and maternity discrimination could result in a scenario where women have to pick between being discriminated but financially secure, or leaving their job and struggling financially. No woman should have to make this choice.

“Ahead of the election, tens of thousands of our supporters urged MP candidates to sign the Both Lives Pledge, which outlined three policy changes designed to increase protection for babies in the womb and end pregnancy discrimination for women.

“We will continue to work closely with parliamentarians to campaign for positive changes and are hopeful that Mrs Larkin’s case will help us in our efforts while reminding employers and colleagues to consider how they can better support pregnant women in the workplace.”