Hands up who out there would think that pregnancy discrimination is something that doesn’t often happen much these days? Far from it – as The Women and Equalities Committee calls on UK parliament for UK women to have protections similar to those in Germany after a ‘shocking’ increase in workplace pregnancy discrimination over the past decade, the reality couldn’t be any more different.
Here, one mother who was at the receiving end of pregnancy discrimination at work speaks candidly about her experience – over to Kate from The Less Refined Mind to share her story in this in-conversation…
It has been said that pregnancy discrimination is still a huge thing in the UK – just how big is it?
I wouldn’t like to put a number on it, but I’d say prevalent. I think often it’s through ignorance – not that that’s an excuse – but equally often it’s companies with poor policies and people in management trying to get away with as much as they can.
Why do you think in today’s relatively forward thinking world pregnancy discrimination can still exist?
It baffles me! But there’s a clear reason for it: not enough is done to ensure otherwise. Some time ago fees were introduced for women wishing to escalate their grievances. This has capped the number of grievances which are taken to the employment tribunal (which was the intention), but sadly it means many valid cases are never resolved in the woman’s favour.
I accept that there are occasions when people try it on, but ultimately, pregnant women deserve protection. In my opinion, laws are not stringent enough. In my experience, if a company remains just inside of the law – or makes it impossible to prove otherwise – then they can do pretty much as they please. And I was treated appallingly without any scope for justice.
Can you share a little on your experience of pregnancy discrimination?
Whilst heavily pregnant I was asked to relocate to a storage cupboard which had been converted into office space. It had no windows, there was no air conditioning and it was the height of summer. I refused and from that moment my life was made intolerable.
The final straw for me was when I was taken into a meeting by the MD and bawled at for half an hour. I wasn’t allowed to speak without him shouting over me. He threatened to cut my pay be a third because ‘I wasn’t earning my keep’ – despite never having been hired in a sales capacity and making it crystal clear that I was not a sales person.
The man’s aggression was bewildering and intimidating and I never saw him again after leaving that room. However, he continued to make my life incredibly difficult right up to when my baby was induced as a medical emergency and beyond. I did pursue the case for as long as I was able, but once my daughter arrived prematurely and weighing only 5lb 4oz, my priorities naturally shifted.
Sadly in my situation (and no doubt many others), my colleagues were so afraid of putting themselves in the firing line that they went along with his lies. So, despite bringing in an ‘impartial’ solicitor to handle my grievance, witness statements were fabricated and I was vilified. I didn’t stand a chance.
In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently in the situation?
I would never have worked there.
What do you think is the best way to tackle pregnancy discrimination at work going forward?
What advice would you give to someone who feels that they are on the receiving end of this type of discrimination?
Contact ACAS for assistance but expect little from their arbitration service. They do offer sound advice in terms of the law though. Keep your head down and if you can’t remain in the position in which you find yourself, visit your doctor.
I was signed off with stress for the last month before I was entitled to maternity pay. Sometimes it’s the only way – you and your baby are more important than winning. And though I’ll never know for sure, it’s possible that stress led to my baby’s failure to thrive which ultimately resulted in early induction.
If there is one thing people should know about pregnancy discrimination it should be…
Bystanders are what allow the situation to be perpetuated.
And if there is only one thing you could say to those experiencing pregnancy discrimination it would be…
When your baby is in your arms, this will diminish into insignificance.
And lastly, how have your experiences changed your outlook on employment?
Well put it this way: I now blog on my own terms and if I can possibly help it, I shall never step foot inside another office. Unless I’m ever successful enough to manage one, in which case I’ll have super awesome policies for our pregnant staff and parents.
Anything else you would like to add?
If my old MD happen to be reading: I’m winning at life – you didn’t break me despite your best efforts. And you pushed me into making the best career leap of my life, so cheers!
What are your thoughts on pregnancy discrimination? Have you or perhaps someone you know been on the receiving end of it?
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