We all know that being a working parent is hard, but what about when your employer makes it harder, if not bloody impossible for you to succeed all because you’re a parent, specifically a working mum? As a HR professional I’d like to say that this doesn’t happen in today’s society, but sadly that’s not the case and there are all too many stories that prove it.
With International Women’s Day coming up on the 8th March it is clear that the progress that has been made with regards to equality in the workplace is vast. However statistics show that it’s still not enough. Whether it’s trying to dismiss you because you are pregnant or replacing you whilst you are on maternity leave, it’s a sad fact that recent stats suggest that nearly half of working mums feel discriminated against by their employers, either during their pregnancy or upon their return to work.
There are many reasons why employers treat mothers or mothers to be differently in the workplace. Maybe it’s because your boss’s wife was a stay at home mum who kept the house immaculatly clean and made banana bread and home baked focaccia every day and he can’t see why you would even dream of coming back to work. Maybe it’s because your company are worried about health and safety implications of having a pregnant staff member and don’t want to land themselves in hot water. Maybe it’s because one of your team members have complained that you having time off to look after your poorly child is having a negative impact on the team (erm hello, clearing up a 3 year old’s vomit in 20 minute intervals throughout the day isn’t having a great impact on me either mate). Whatever the reason, discrimination against women in the workplace happens.
But that doesn’t mean that it is something that we should accept. Hell to the no.
Knowledge is power as they say, so here are some of the key facts on your rights and what exactly constitutes as discrimination.
You cannot be penalised for absence that relates to your pregnancy
Pregnancy related sickness cannot be used against you or used as a reason for disciplinary action. For more information on your rights as a pregnant worker, see my previous post on this here.
You have the right to return to the same terms and conditions following your maternity leave
If you return to work within the first 6 months of your maternity leave (known as Ordinary Maternity Leave) you are entitled to return to the same job (as well as the same terms and conditions etc.) If you return to work in the following 6 months (Additional Maternity Leave) you are entitled to return to the same job, unless your employer can prove that it is not reasonably practical for this to happen, in which case you must be offered a suitable alternative. See my previous post on this here.
You are allowed time off to care for dependants
Dependants can include your spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent or otherwise, someone who relies on you for care (although I think your family Hamster might be pushing it). As an employee you are allowed a reasonable amount of time off to deal with an emergency situation involving dependants. Sadly this doesn’t extend to School plays and those bloody middle of the week Open Days (I’m still not over this one clearly – see my previous post featuring my Open Day fail here) but a breakdown in childcare arrangements do count. Your employer must not treat you unfairly for taking this time off otherwise it could be classed as discrimination.
Your employer must handle all flexible working requests in a reasonable manner
This means that they cannot turn down your request simply because they don’t like the idea of you sprinting out of the door early to pick up your children- there must be a solid business reason for the refusal. In addition, your employer cannot force you to change your working hours without your consent, unless your contract explicitly states that your working hours may be changed from time to time (however even then they are on dodgy ground).
It is illegal for your employer to pay you less than a man doing the same job
You’re working your ass off being the best employee you can be and then legging it home to make dinner time crumpets for the kids (it’s fine, they had a hot meal at school and errr crumpets are hot anyway right?) and then you get wind that Gloaty Glenn who has the same job title as you gets paid more. What gives?! Unfortunately this is too often the case (you must have seen the BBC equal pay scandal) however, the fact of the matter is, it is discrimination for an employer to pay a woman less for doing the same or similar work to a man. With new laws now in place meaning that large companies have to report on the gap in pay between genders, hopefully some inroads will be made here but the issue is still a big one.
What to do if you are being treated unfairly
Ok great, so you’re are armed with the facts but your employer is still making your life a living hell- what do you do next?
Have a word
I realise that in some cases, this is easier said than done, especially if the discrimination you are faced with is by your manager or worse the company director. However I would always suggest that if you can, this would be the first step to try and navigate. Obviously the main reason being that the situation may well be resolved in this manner. The offending person may not have realised the negative impact their behaviour was having on you – you may even get an apology – happy days!
Raise a Grievance
Your little chat fell of deaf ears – its time to go formal. Raising a grievance means your employer must go through a proper process and investigate the matter. Most employers will have a policy in place outlining their procedures, but if not its worth checking out the ACAS guidance on this here. Obviously if all goes to plan your grievance will be upheld and the discrimination acknowledged and put a stop to. However even if not, an employment tribunal (if it gets that far- hopefully not!) will always look to see whether you’ve taken all possible steps to try and resolve the matter, so even if the outcome to your grievance has not gone in your favour, going through the process may be helpful to you later on. You shouldn’t be victimised by your employer for raising a grievance as this would count as discrimination. Obviously.
Citizens Advice Bureau
It was many years before I actually realised that the CAB offered more than just maps of the local area and advice on what is on this week at the town hall. Turns out they actually offer employment advice too (who knew?) You can find a link to their website here, or alternatively you can give them a call to get some advice over the phone.
Seek Legal Advice
Sounds expensive and it can be. However most employment solicitors will offer at least a 30 minute phone call free of charge. In that time they should be able to assess whether you are actually being discriminated against or whether the employer is acting appropriately, as well as offer you some basic advice.
ACAS have a free helpline available to employees (and employers) on all aspects of employment law. Although they cannot advise you on what to do, they can give you an idea of whether your particular situation is classed as discrimination. There is also heaps of information available on their website.
So now you have the information, there’s very little chance of you being discriminated against right? Er no. Sadly not. But hopefully this post will help you to understand not only what constitutes as discrimination, but also, what the hell to do about it. The fact of the matter is though that speaking out against employers isn’t easy, especially when we sorta need to work to feed the kids and all that. What is clear though is that social media has been a crucial platform in helping to press forwards with gender parity.
There are many influencers running amazing campaigns to get the issue in the spotlight and employers to sit up and take note. If you are not already doing so, it’s is definitely worth giving @pregnant_then_screwed a follow on Instagram for some very interesting stories as well as excellent advice. She also has a helpline offering legal advice if you think you are being discriminated against and don’t know what to do next.
Additionally, if there is anything I haven’t covered or you would like further information on, please do let me know via the contact form.
Right, I’m off to buy some sort of heavily emblazoned, feminist slogan T-shirt for International Women’s Day this week…