EHRC Study Reveals that Many Women Still Experience Maternity Discrimination

Tuesday July 28th, 2015

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published shocking new research on pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the UK.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for employers to treat a woman unfavourably because she is pregnant, is ill because of her pregnancy, is on maternity leave, or has tried or intends to take maternity leave.

However, of the 3,200 women surveyed in the EHRC study, 11% said they had been dismissed, made compulsorily redundant, or treated so poorly that they felt they had to leave their jobs. If these findings are replicated across the population as whole, as many as 54,000 women could be losing their jobs each year in the UK.

The survey is the largest of its kind and the findings show that there is still a long way to go in ensuring equality for mothers in the workplace:

  • 1 in 5 new mothers said they experienced harassment or negative comments from colleagues, employers or managers when pregnant or returning from maternity leave;
  • 10% were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments;
  • 9% said they were treated worse by their employer on their return to work than they were before pregnancy
  • More than one in 20 (7%) said they were put under pressure to hand in their notice;
  • When mothers were allowed to work flexibly, around half reported negative consequences, such as receiving fewer opportunities to work or feeling that their opinion was less valued;
  • The impact on younger mothers (under 25) was greater in many areas, with around 6% experiencing dismissal compared to 1% over all age groups.


There is some good news. The research did reveal progress in relation to practice and employer attitudes within a range of industries:

  • 84% of employers said that supporting pregnant workers and those on maternity leave was in the interests of their organisations;
  • Around 8 out of 10 employers agreed that pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave were just as committed to their work as their colleagues;
  • Two thirds of employers did not think that pregnancy put an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace;
  • Two thirds of mothers (66%) felt that their employer supported them willingly during pregnancy and when they returned to work.


Having been involved with the women’s movement in Wales for sometime, I was surprised to find maternity rights and work such a steep learning curve when I had my baby in 2013.  I was shocked and saddened to have been made redundant from a women’s organisation whilst I was on maternity leave, finding out by letter and not having any contact from my manager, then again to find out they recruited new staff just 6 months later.  It was a very difficult time to navigate, and had a huge impact on my confidence to return to work, let alone the implications it could have had to my maternal health. Given the impact of the research, it’s about time Wales put support in place.

WEN Wales member


WEN Wales will use the findings from this research to support our ongoing work to advance the rights of women in Wales by taking the following actions:

  • Call upon the Welsh Government to ensure that good quality advice, information and advocacy services are available to help women understand and exercise their rights in relation to pregnancy and maternity discrimination;
  • Join with the Fawcett Society in calling on the UK Government to launch a public information campaign to improve the awareness of employers and employees about maternity discrimination and employees’ rights;
  • Work closely with our Women and the Economy Subgroup to raise awareness about the economic impact of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in Wales ;
  • Work with our organisational members and employers across Wales to promote good practice in managing pregnancy and maternity in the workplace.

Are you interested in supporting women’s economic empowerment in Wales? Join our Women and the Economy Subgroup.

Follow the #worksforme on twitter for updates on the EHRC research.

Further reading