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  1. ITV Report

Thousands of new mothers forced out of work every year as employers 'in denial' over discrimination, study claims

Tens of thousands of new mothers every year are being fired or forced to quit their jobs due to workplace discrimination, a new study has found.

One in ten women surveyed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had been sacked, made redundant or treated so badly they had to leave in the months after returning from maternity leave.

The study looked into workplace discrimination against new mothers Credit: PA

Meanwhile, a fifth had experienced harassment or negative comments from colleagues or managers either while pregnant or once they had given birth.

Even when allowed to work flexible hours, around half said they were offered fewer opportunities to progress.

Researchers said the findings suggest some 54,000 new mothers are being edged out of their jobs each year.

50%
of new mothers given fewer opportunities to progress
10%
were sacked, made redundant or treated so badly they had to quit
33%
of employers refused to disagree that pregnancy puts an 'unreasonable burden' on business

The study, carried out in conjunction with the government's Business Department, interviewed more than 3,200 women on their experiences in the workplace as a new parent.

Other findings include:

  • 10% said they were treated worse by their employer upon returning to work
  • 7% said they were put under pressure to hand in their notice
  • 5% were given a pay cut or a lower bonus

Deputy chairman of the EHRC, Caroline Waters, said the research highlighted the "worrying" degree of prejudice women still face in the workplace.

The commission is now leading a campaign to raise awareness of the problem, and will produce a 'toolkit' to help employers better manage pregnant staff members.

This research reveals the worrying levels of discrimination and disadvantage at work that women still face today. Not only is discrimination unlawful, but it is also bad for business.

That's why today we're launching a major initiative to bring this issue into the public eye, improve awareness of the law and work with business and other groups to find workable solutions.

– Caroline Waters, EHRC
A third of employers refused to disagree that pregnancy puts an Credit: PA

As part of the study, thousands of employers were also surveyed.

Researchers found most managers declared they were firm supporters of female staff both during and after their pregnancies, with four out five agreeing that new mothers were just as committed to their work as their colleagues.

But a third of employers refused to disagree that pregnancy puts an "unreasonable burden" on the workplace.

General secretary of the TUC union, Frances O'Grady, accused companies of being "in denial" over the scale of anti-pregnancy discrimination.

Becoming pregnant should be one of the happiest times in a woman's life, not a period of anxiety and stress.

These findings must not be swept under the carpet. The current culture of bullying, harassment and ill-treatment that many female workers experience must be consigned to the past.

– Frances O'Grady, TUC

She also called on the government to waive the current £1,200 fee women face if they want to pursue a pregnancy discrimination claim.

A government spokesman vowed that the findings of the study would be used to inform future policies.