Who is protected from pregnancy or maternity discrimination?

Once your employer knows that you are pregnant, you are protected from pregnancy discrimination at work, in addition to protection from sex discrimination, under the Equality Act 2010. You may have a claim for sex discrimination if you are treated less favourably for associating with a pregnant woman, for example, if your partner is pregnant. You are also protected from maternity discrimination if you are taking, seeking to take or have taken statutory maternity leave. You are protected whether you are permanent, fixed-term, full-time, part-time, supply or agency.

Your colleagues, managers and governors are prohibited from discriminating against you. If you are an agency worker on a day-to-day or longer term contract, your agency and the hirers for whom you are working are prohibited from discriminating against you.

What is pregnancy or maternity discrimination?

Pregnancy or maternity discrimination would include treating you unfavourably at work for a reason related to your pregnancy or childbirth or because you are taking, seeking to take or have taken statutory maternity leave, which results in a loss or detriment to you, for example, loss of pay or injury to your feelings. You are also protected from sex discrimination.

When am I protected from pregnancy or maternity discrimination?

Protection from pregnancy discrimination starts when your employer or agency is aware that you are pregnant. It ends when your 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave ends or when you return to work, if you return to work before the end of 52 weeks.

Protection from maternity discrimination begins when your employer or agency is aware that you are pregnant. If you are entitled to statutory maternity leave, the protection continues after your leave has ended.

Agency workers are not usually entitled to statutory maternity leave as such but should be allowed time off to have, and care for, their baby. If you are not entitled to statutory maternity leave, the protection from maternity discrimination ends two weeks after your child is born.

What sort of treatment is covered?

Pregnancy discrimination would include a refusal to employ or engage you because you are pregnant; the early termination of your fixed-term contract because you are pregnant; denying you time off to attend an antenatal medical appointment; or refusing to award pay progression because you were absent with a pregnancy-related illness.

Maternity discrimination would include denying pay progression because you have been on maternity leave; excluding you from a staff consultation on timetable changes because you are on maternity leave; or omitting to notify you of vacancies or promotion opportunities because you are on maternity leave.

What sort of treatment is not covered?

Treatment that is nothing to do with your pregnancy, maternity or sex, which the employer can show is wholly and genuinely for a non-discriminatory reason, will not be unlawful. Suspending you on full pay on health and safety grounds or requiring you to work in another local school due to a rubella risk would not usually amount to discrimination. Requiring you to start your maternity leave early if you are absent from work for maternity-related sickness within one month of your due date would not normally amount to discrimination.

What should I do if I think that I have been discriminated against on grounds of maternity or pregnancy?

Gather all the written evidence that you have, for example, job adverts, letters, emails and relevant screenshots. Keep a diary of all incidents of less favourable treatment including dates, times, places, the names of any witnesses and your response to the conduct or behaviour.

It is not always immediately clear whether certain treatment is on grounds of pregnancy or maternity or for some other genuine reason, so it is sensible to record all the treatment you are concerned about. The employer may or may not intend to discriminate against you or may try to cover up discrimination against you. The employer should work with the union to find out the real reason for the treatment, to stop the treatment if it is discriminatory and to secure appropriate action, for example, to obtain a full written apology or to secure a pay award that you have been denied.

Ask your workplace rep or school or college office for copies of relevant workplace policies, for example, pay policies, capability procedures, redundancy policies. The NEU urges all employers to adopt policies and procedures which prohibit unlawful discrimination and which allow employers to identify and tackle any discrimination fairly and quickly.

Discuss your concerns with your workplace rep. Your colleagues may have made similar complaints and you may be advised to tackle the issue with them collectively.

You or your rep might decide to contact the union for further advice. The NEU will be able to advise what steps you should take. You may be advised to lodge a formal grievance or to lodge a collective grievance with your colleagues. This may resolve the issue. In rare cases you may be advised to take the matter to an employment tribunal. The objective in all cases will be to stop any discrimination and allow you to continue working in a professional environment free from discrimination.

What if the discrimination has made me ill?

Follow the advice in the previous answer on gathering information and seeking advice. Keep a record of how you believe discriminatory treatment has affected your health, eg your symptoms and any absences from work. You are advised to see your GP and to let your employer know in writing that the treatment at work is affecting your health. The union can help you write this letter. If you believe that the stress of discrimination or harassment at work has led to depression, an anxiety disorder, or psychosis, you may be suffering from a recognised psychiatric illness. If so, you should seek immediate advice from the union – see contact details at the end of this factsheet.

What should my employer or agency do if I complain about discrimination?

Your employer or agency should investigate your complaint, stop any discrimination and take appropriate action to prevent it from happening again to you or someone else. Employers in the education sector should comply with the public sector equality duty to eliminate discrimination and advance equality.

What if the employer treats me worse after I have raised the issue?

You should contact your workplace rep if you are subjected to detrimental treatment in retaliation or as punishment for raising a complaint of discrimination. This is called 'victimisation' and is prohibited by the Equality Act.

What more can I do to protect myself and colleagues from discrimination at work?

Employers in the education sector have a statutory duty to be proactive in eliminating discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity for staff and pupils. They must assess the impact of their policies and procedures on the people affected by them and take steps to remove any barriers that come to light where it is proportionate to do so. Contact your workplace rep, branch secretary or local equality officer if you want to get involved in reviewing the equality impact of policies and procedures in your workplace.

Make sure that you receive information about NEU equality events and conferences and about the equality constituency seat elections for the national executive. If you have not told the union about your ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability status, you may miss out on important information. Go to [LINK] to update your membership details to ensure you are fully informed. The information that you provide will remain strictly confidential. The data will form the basis of anonymous statistical reports, which will help identify trends in workplaces and barriers to participation in the union's structures.

You are not alone in this union

When you read through this document you may have questions about what happens in your particular school or workplace, and there may be collective issues that affect other members.

In most circumstances, you should initially discuss the matter with your workplace rep, as they will know whether similar concerns have been raised by other members. If you do not have a rep at the moment, it would be a good idea to get members together to elect one. Further advice on this is available at: neu.org.uk/becoming-a-rep

Although you may sometimes feel that you are the only person affected by or concerned about a particular issue, in reality this is seldom the case. Any difficulties you may experience are likely to be linked to wider conditions at your workplace and as a member of the NEU you have the advantage of being able to act collectively with your colleagues. This should give you the confidence of knowing that you have the weight of the union behind you.

Further information

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
Guidance on discrimination: equalityhumanrights.com

Trades Union Congress (TUC)
Guidance on equality: www.tuc.org.uk/equality-issues
Guidance on flexible working: worksmart.org.uk

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
Guidance on parents’ and carers’ rights: acas.org.uk