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Last Updated: Friday, 1 July, 2005, 19:35 GMT 20:35 UK
Equal opportunities for pregnant women: Your views
Pregnant woman
Do pregnant women receive equal opportunities in the workplace?

Tens of thousands of women lose their jobs or are demoted each year due to being pregnant, according to a report by the Equal Opportunities Commission.

The EOC says that the women miss out on £12m in statutory maternity pay, while employers spend £126m replacing them.

What can be done to improve the position of pregnant women in the workplace? Are expectant mothers treated unfairly?


This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

The system needs to be sorted out
ML, Aberdeen
When I decided to have a family I left work and only returned 7 years later with no handouts or wages for not being at work! The system needs to be sorted out once and for all!!
ML, Aberdeen

I'm sick of hearing all these small businessmen moaning. If you run a business, you have to do so within the laws of the country. You're required to give women maternity leave, just as you are required to pay tax etc. You know the laws when you go into business.
Alan, Sheffield, UK

Reading the letters here shows why British children are so badly behaved. They are just not loved or wanted. They are just a 'lifestyle choice' on the one hand or, somebody else's problem on the other. As soon as they are born they are farmed out so that the mother can go back to work.
John, France

It's okay for large companies to follow all the ridiculous regulations but it's not okay for a small business. We don't employ anyone who is going to want maternity leave, we can't afford it! Staff have to be available to work full stop!
KL, Scotland

All efforts should be made to assist working women to have children and then return to the workforce
Marc, Vienna (ex UK)
With a declining birth rate and a looming pensions crisis, I think all efforts should be made to assist working women to have children and then return to the workforce. I think it is very short-sighted and indeed monumentally stupid to discriminate against this section of the workforce. None of the European maternity benefit systems are perfect, perhaps some fine tuning is required?
Marc, Vienna (ex UK)

It is interesting to see people claiming that small businesses are financially penalised for pregnant staff. This need not be the case. My wife is pregnant, she works in a very small business and they are able to re-claim 104% of the statutory maternity pay they give her. (The extra 4% covers some of employers NI and the like). This is therefore a neutral or quids-in situation for the business. Even larger businesses can claim 90% of statutory maternity pay back from the government. If a company chooses to give more than legally required, they are allowed to require the woman to return to work or re-pay the additional money. I'm not sure how the situation at the moment penalises employers. Unless their accountants aren't doing their jobs properly.
Tim, Fareham, UK

While I am all in favour of women's rights at work and in general I have been astounded at the experience of a couple of friends when they have chosen to have children. The entire medical system is set up on the assumption that they are ill and not at work. Midwife appointments are strictly limited to between 10 and 12 on one day of the week - why not run an early morning or evening session? Our payroll people even insist on a payment of £40 just to sort out maternity pay - surely this is discrimination? Pregnant women aren't ill!
Ali, Bucks, England

It's fine in the state sector, or in big organisations, where absolute political correctness is a critical part of the culture, and money and performance are no real object, but in smaller firms, it can really matter when someone goes - for whatever reason.
Steve, UK

It's hardly discrimination to not pay someone for not working. Businesses are businesses not charities; they are there to do business, not to subsidise families who can't support themselves or, more likely, who don't want to lower their standard of living when they decide to have a child.
Albert, UK

I work for an employer who treats its employees well and provides a full range of support for women when they get pregnant. Indeed, when one of the women in the office gets pregnant such is the fuss and interest shown by everyone it's probably the lowest cost team building exercise the company can find. And, guess what, so far every woman has come back to work after having her children.
Gerry, Scotland

The maternity benefit system needs to offer employers some guarantee that someone they are keeping a job open for will actually return
N Rhodes, Leicestershire, UK
I am convinced that mothers not returning from maternity leave cause a considerable problem to equal opportunities. Every time a mother takes full maternity leave benefits, while in full knowledge that their job is being held open for them, and then not return, the employer becomes less likely to employ women of child-bearing age. After all, men cannot take paternity leave for months on end, so employing men is a much safer bet for the employer. Women should definitely not be sacked because they become pregnant. However, the maternity benefit system needs to offer employers some guarantee that someone they are keeping a job open for will actually return. Perhaps if maternity benefit was available whether or not the mother intends to return to work, then mothers who do not wish to, can say so straight away. They will not loose out, but their employers can start to recruit straightaway.
N Rhodes, Leicestershire, UK

Pregnant women should not be discriminated against, at the same time businesses should not face ruins because of this. Perhaps the way out of this is by providing government loans to these women which can be paid back as deductions from their salary when they return, if they decided not to return to work then it can be deducted from their unemployment benefits. No one is saying raising children is easy or cheap, but running a successful business is not a walk in the park either.
Jay, Wales

It can make a big impact on a small company to lose one of their employees for a long time but this is the way of nature. We need children to expand and keep going. To discriminate against women wanting to have a family is not right, but pregnant women must take into account how it might affect the company they work for.
Steph, Birmingham, UK

The present system is quite simply completely wrong. Employers shouldn't have to pay woman wages in her absence. The 6 months maternity pay should be paid by state. It's not a wage, it's a benefit. I agree that having children is not a lifestyle choice and people can't be penalised for having them. However, having children is clearly in the interest of society as a whole, and it has to be society as a whole contributing to it, not an unlucky individual employer.
Julia, London

In the last month we have had two women increase their hours 4 week before starting maternity leave to gain greater employer top up payments. We have also had someone start with us only to go on maternity two months after induction. This makes me sympathise with smaller employers who cannot afford the associated costs.
Anon UK,

As someone who has decided not to have children, I'm happy to pay taxes towards education for other people's children as they are the doctors, dentists etc of the future. However, if I owned a small business I would be loathed to pay maternity benefits to a pregnant employee (plus a wage to her replacement) in the knowledge that she could decide to quit when the benefits ended. Large businesses can afford these payments; smaller businesses cannot.
L Chapman, Devon UK

It's interesting the sense of entitlement some parents seem to have over the single
David Andrews, Basingstoke, UK
It's interesting the sense of entitlement some parents seem to have over the single. I can't have kids however I don't begrudge paying taxes towards education as it contributes to the future of the country as a whole. But that's as far as it goes. I don't agree that my quality of life should be compromised for the convenience of those already more fortunate than I.
David Andrews, Basingstoke, UK

I agree that pregnant women should not be discriminated yet I think it is a bit cheeky from the government to put the moral obligation on business and not themselves. Such laws will have an impact on business and may make potential investors think twice. Instead of the current practice I think the government should take the bill for paying pregnant employees and not small businesses.
Kaveh, Edinburgh

Having children is a lifestyle choice as it can be more or less controlled as to when it happens, therefore it's the responsibility of the woman to deal with the employment consequences and not the employer.
James, Hull, UK

It is really shocking and, unfortunately, a sign of the society in which we have to live, that certain individuals can flagrantly ignore the law of the land by discriminating against pregnant workers. Employers who do so should be given exemplary fines or even harsher punishments. Childbearing is both licit and natural and should be the right of any woman in a modern welfare state. After all, remember, it is the children born now who will be paying for your pensions.
Chris Dennison, Valencia, Spain

Any maternity pay should be provided by the government, businesses should bear no cost whatsoever. The only thing a business should have to do is to keep the woman's job open until the maternity leave has ended. However the woman must guarantee that she will come back afterwards.
Scott, Leeds, UK

The reason many women are treated badly for being pregnant is that companies don't like paying benefits to people who take time off work. The solution to this problem is to give the fathers involved exactly the same benefits and the same amount of time off work as the mother. Blatant sexism will then be rooted out.
Lloyd Evans, Brighton, UK

This sort of prejudice against women should be dealt with once and for all
Tom, UK
This sort of prejudice against women should be dealt with once and for all. The Employment Protection Acts (repealed by Thatcher) gave us a head start nearly 30 years ago. Why does the current government not bring back this enlightened legislation? Good employers cope well with pregnant employees. The solution lies in having a flexible and happy workforce. There is absolutely no reason why a small business should suffer more than a big one. It is all a matter of management skills and organisation.
Tom, UK

Small firms are going bust all over the country because of the ridiculous generosity of the benefits given to pregnant women. If you can't give 100% dedication to your job, then quit and allow somebody who is prepared to work hard to have the chance.
Barry, Yarmouth

I wholeheartedly agree with Caroline. There is so much legislation around now stifling small businesses that I only ever use people on sub-contract positions. If they want holidays, children, sick pay etc that's all down to them. But don't expect me to pay for it. I'll just move on to the next contractor. They can call me back when they're ready to go to work again.
Peter Connolly, Derby, England

Have any of you business people who are complaining your staff didn't return from maternity leave thought about providing a crèche? Job share arrangements? Home working for suitable tasks?
Vicky Dunn, Birmingham, UK

I am not going to have children but recognise their importance to our society
Bill H, Edinburgh
Society should vote with its feet. Do not purchase goods or services from firms who mistreat parents of both sexes. We must expect that to benefit there will be costs. I am not going to have children but recognise their importance to our society. They are not a lifestyle choice. This is one area where being selfish only hurts us in the longer term. The only way to make our message heard is to hurt those companies that insist on being selfish.
Bill H, Edinburgh

Surely the solution is for the state to pay all maternity costs for working mothers. It is about time working individuals received some decent benefits for the large slice of tax and NI we hand over each month.
Steve West, Cambs, UK

I don't know anyone who can afford to stay at home and raise children. The choice is be a working mother or don't be a mother at all. If legislation weren't there to protect women there would be a serious problem with population decline in the UK.
Helen, Herts

In a culture that thinks of children as a burden, instead of the blessing that they are, it's no surprise this kind of thing happens.
Jack, Bloomington, Illinois, United States

As a small business owner in Portugal the we have to pay 24% of employees' salary to social security. The employees' deduction is 11%. However it ensures that pregnancy leave is NOT a cost paid for by the employer, thus women are generally employed for what they can do. The same should apply in UK, there is no logical reason why employers should have to pay social security contributions without having a benefit from them.
Brian Dennis, Bicesse, Portugal

I was treated very badly whilst I was pregnant
Jacqueline, Chester-le-Street, County Durham
I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant in February 2003. I was working on a temporary agency contract at the time and several placements were offered to me and then withdrawn as soon as the company was told I was pregnant, even though they were just office jobs, not strenuous heavy lifting. I had no time off whilst I was pregnant as all my ante-natal appointments had to be taken as annual leave. I was treated very badly whilst I was pregnant and received very little support or understanding from any of the agencies I worked for, even though I had no time off sick and did not ask for any kind of special treatment.
Jacqueline, Chester-le-Street, County Durham

Why do so many people see this as black and white, either/ or? I am a director (of child-bearing age, I might add) of a small, private company. My husband and I would like to start a family very soon. I don't see this as a "lifestyle choice" or something I am wilfully considering at the expense of my employer and colleagues. I very much see myself as a key protagonist in the successful development of my company and I fully intend to remain so. I do expect maternity rights, but at the same time I fully expect plenty of involvement with the company during my pregnancy and whilst on maternity leave. Are there seriously men in this discussion forum who think that women like me should choose either a career or a family, but shouldn't be entitled to both? Presumably these are the same men wealthy enough to support wives who don't work and who believe a woman's place is in the kitchen?
Anon, London

I think all mothers should stay at home for the first five years and the income of the father then split equally between both parents. Upon return to work and for the purposes of house purchase, one income only should be used to apply for a mortgage, thus bringing down house prices whilst combating the increasing neglect of pre-school children. Whilst 'at home' for those first years mothers could take the opportunity to learn how to cook, and manage their homes... skills which have been almost entirely lost. It would also be an opportunity to increase further education for women, helping them to get back into employment, and giving them the opportunity to learn new skills.
Ann Thwaite, UK

People taking a break should be required to make a commitment as to the date of return
Megan, Cheshire, UK
While giving parents time off to have their children and retaining a position to return to once they have recovered are sensible, the funding for extended breaks should be met by the government rather than by the employer. People taking a break should be required to make a commitment as to the date of return to allow for sensible resource planning on the employer's part... and if in breach of that should be deemed to have chosen to resign. (I am, by the way, mother to an 8-year old and have a full-time job).
Megan, Cheshire, UK

Having children is not a choice; not having children is the choice. As human beings our sole purpose in this life is to reproduce. If you're not prepared to support pregnant woman on maternity leave or be prepared to be an equal rights employer then you're obviously incapable of running a business. I've run a small business for years and this has never been an issue, but then I never employ more people that I can afford.
N. High, Bristol

The words "I'm pregnant" strike fear into the hearts of most business owners. Far from discriminating against pregnant employees most business owners are terrified of putting a foot wrong because the legislation is stacked so heavily in favour of the employee!
Frank Church, London, England

It is an unfortunate fact that, whilst the majority of women return to work, many do not, so employers have the expense of paying out for temporary staff, only to find their erstwhile employee decides to stay at home. As an office manager in charge of employing staff, I get out of the problem by not employing anyone who is likely to have children - and yes, that includes men as well!
Sue, London, UK

Pregnant women also have to consider the effects of their pregnancy on their employers and colleagues
Heather, Stockport, UK
A lot of the bad feeling expressed in this forum is caused by pregnant women not being forthright with their employers about their intentions regarding maternity leave and whether they will return to work or not. Too often bosses are messed about by women who effectively want to resign without the confrontation. Yes, employers have to be fair to pregnant women, but pregnant women also have to consider the effects of their pregnancy on their employers and colleagues and help to minimise disruption.
Heather, Stockport, UK

Is it really a "lifestyle choice" to have children? I thought it was the continued survival of our species.
R. Harriman, Leicestershire

Presumably all the people who believe that having children is harming the economy are not relying on there being anyone paying taxes to fund their old age in 20 years time??
Anna, Windsor

We will achieve equal opportunities in the workplace when men are capable of becoming pregnant.
Charley, Sheffield, UK

I have two children of my own, who are both well on the way to being valuable members of society, in which capacity they will be paying taxes to support everyone else in society, be they parents or childless people. Children are not a "life-style choice". The life-style choice is NOT having children. I would also mention that my highly intelligent and diligent wife has been lost to the job market for the past few years while she stays at home bringing up the children - partly because we don't want to risk hassle from mean minded employers and colleagues.
Tom Lee, Guernsey

As the owner of a small business (9 people) I found out the hard way that an employee's pregnancy meant that my business and my health would suffer too. I couldn't afford to pay her and get a replacement, so I ended up doing 2 jobs myself. I worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week for over 6 months. I was exhausted, ill and stressed to the max. My employee came back at the last possible moment, and stayed only long enough so that she didn't have to repay any of her maternity benefits. Now I only employ people on a contract basis - they are self-employed and I sub-contract work to them. I make it clear in their contracts that any maternity issues are their own and not mine, and that I can cancel the contract at any time. It's harsh, but it's either that or my business fails and we're all unemployed.
Caroline, Bradford, UK

Where will we end up if no-one chooses to have children?
Sindy N, London
What most of the anti-maternity men seem to forget is that children are vital for the country's continuing growth. Where will we end up if no-one chooses to have children because they cannot afford it?
Sindy N, London

If people like Sindy from London would get over their sexism for a moment they might just notice that it's not simply an issue of "anti-maternity men", but both men and women who object to constantly taking up the slack to convenience other people's private lives. And yes, some of these objectors have children too but the difference is that they don't expect special treatment from everyone else.
Chris, Oxford

Sindy couldn't have said it better when she pointed out the critical importance that having children and growing the economy has for all of our futures. As a 3 month pregnant woman I am horrified by the views expressed here. SMP is a cost borne by all taxpayers. A company has the choice to top this up or not. It is fair that small businesses bear a greater burden in either sharing workload in someone's absence or in replacement costs, and this should be considered by the legislators. But this does not explain the poorly reasoned and outrageously discriminatory views expressed by some below.
Jacqui, London, UK

The number of times I have had to cover for pregnant colleagues for anti-natal appointments and then maternity leave with no extra pay but expected to do extra hours is too many to count. If my cat is ill and needs to go the vets, if I want to go during the daytime, I have to either book 1/2 day's leave or take unpaid leave. This discriminates against those women who cannot or do not wish to have children. And I am a woman who thinks this is equal opportunities gone mad!
J. Hodgson, Swindon, UK

Employers should not have to pay anyone who is not at work, for whatever reason. Having a child is a choice, and with any choice there is a price. It is the government's responsibility to ensure mothers are financially stable, and that is why we pay extortionate levels of tax to maintain a welfare society. Employers are effectively being stung twice. I will go on record as saying I will never employ a woman who is likely to want to start a family in the near future.
Darren, Staffs

I can understand why companies are reluctant to employ women. Having worked in an office with 3 other women all of whom went off and had babies within months of each other, my employers had to not only pay their wage in their absence but also pay to take on temporary staff to cover in their absence and temp agencies are not cheap. I've also experienced working for companies who don't take on any additional support when staff go on maternity leave, leaving the rest of us to cover for them for several months at a time.
Sarah, Chester, UK

It seems to be well established that smaller businesses sufferer financial difficulties if employees end up on maternity leave. It would be sensible for the government to provide at least some of the money required out of NI contributions.
Tom Willis, Bath, UK

Not at all. I returned to work after maternity leave and was promoted the week I returned. My employer should be an example to the rest.
Jo-Anne Mulqueen, Essex, UK

A colleague of mine, in our very small team, has been off twice to have children. Fully supported and appreciated, she continues to work with us and the investment we've put in to supporting her has paid off massively. We have an outstanding and dedicated worker with vast experience and loyalty. Even temps who have been brought in during her absence have gone on to take up other jobs in the company without the need for extra training given they know the system from their time on maternity cover. Forward thinking and an enlightened attitude works brilliantly in the long run.
KJ, Fife, Scotland

Can you really blame employers not wanting to employ pregnant women? Piling more and more social responsibility and regulations onto firms drags their competitiveness down ever further. Let the state give the helping hand where it's needed but don't hammer business endlessly.
Tessa Wilkinson, Cheam, England

Salaries are paid for the performance of jobs using the skills of the individual, not for rewarding individuals for particular life choices, in this case, the decision to have children. The single or childless have no obligation, moral or any other kind, to pay the household bills or unanticipated costs of the life-style choice to have children.
Simon, London

Employers have to pay for extended maternity leave
Paul, Milton Keynes, England
I used to run my own business, and I would never and will never employ a woman of childbearing age. Employers have to pay for extended maternity leave, pay for a temporary replacement (often with additional expense on training that replacement), and also have to keep the pregnant woman's job open for her, without knowing whether she will return to it. Women have the right to have children and a job if they so wish; but why should I, as an employer, be expected to pay for their lifestyle choices?
Paul, Milton Keynes, England

In Russia, when at an interview, they always ask you if you are going to get married and start a family in the nearest future. They very often reject your job application if they suppose that you might want to have a baby some time soon. They even say this. It's discrimination.
Irina , Krasnodar, Russia

I work for a pretty decent company, so I've not seen pregnant women being discriminated at work. However, many of them don't come back to work or come back to work for only a few weeks after their maternity leave, so I can understand how businesses, particularly small ones, might feel let down by their pregnant staff. It's a difficult problem to solve - since men can't get pregnant, discriminating against pregnancy is implicitly discriminating against women, which I hope most people will agree is a bad thing.
Ken, London

Maternity rights are far too much. Put yourself in the position of a small business. It may be impossible to afford the cost of a member of staff being paid for months of inactivity. How can Britain be expected to compete worldwide with these ridiculous regulations. The unions and labour activists must wake up before thousand more jobs are lost.
Jim, York UK

I was informed I no longer had a job to go to
Kay S, Plymouth, UK
I worked for an internet company about five years ago now, and, while there, I got pregnant with my son, now four. I had to take a few days off when I first got pregnant for violent morning sickness, and was signed off by my doctor. When I called my employer to inform them I would be back the following Monday, I was informed I no longer had a job to go to, as "pregnant women couldn't provide the commitment and reliability they required". Before I had a chance to sue them for unfair dismissal, they were sued by a director they had sacked for a spurious reason, and went bankrupt. Poetic justice.
Kay S, Plymouth, UK

Increasing legislation is discouraging business owners like me from employing women of child-bearing age. Why should I give someone a job if they're going to disappear after six months to have a family? I'm not running a charity!!
Anon, UK

I am a small business owner, and I am trying for a family. I shall still be putting in the same hours, however if one of my very successful sales team falls pregnant, I risk more than the cost of the wages, it is lost revenue as my sales team are very successful. I agree that government help is a must and should be based on each individual company's needs. The impact maternity leave has on each small business to be assessed.
Frankie, Kent

I single-handedly established a department in a small to medium business. I now have a two month old son and have been informed that I am to be made redundant. There is not enough support for women who have suffered injustice at the hands of their employers. I am following an internal grievance procedure at the moment which adds to your stress and takes your time away from your new child. It is a very difficult time and there are not enough agencies set up to help. Employers should no longer be able to treat people so badly and if it were race discrimination or disability discrimination, there would be more done to help.
Angela, Bradford

I worked for a construction company for the last two and a half years, I am currently six and a half months pregnant and was made redundant three weeks ago. Even though there were other employees made redundant at the same time I can't help but feel I was added to the lists because I was pregnant, an easy way to get rid of me. Nothing can be proved.
Nicola King, Kent

I work for a small organisation (equivalent of three full-time staff), and two of my colleagues have gone on maternity leave in the past two years.... the result has been that I've had to work 80 to 90 hour weeks, doing their jobs as well as mine. No-one seems to care about the rights of single, taxpaying males. They should be, because we can vote too. Sooner or later there'll be a backlash and we'll elect someone who'd make President Bush look like the head of Amnesty International. In the meantime my solution to this is very simple - I am simply not going to employ any woman under the age of 50, ever again....Should the government bureaucrats come sticking their noses into my recruitment procedures, I will simply find some way of demonstrating that the male or older female candidate was best suited for the job.
Anonymous, York, UK

I announced I was three months pregnant to the HR person at the company I worked for and then two weeks later I was issued with a disciplinary letter and one month later dismissed. I am now five and a half months pregnant, with a new house (and therefore mortgage, trying to find a job for the final three and a half months of my pregnancy. Not surprising there don't seem to be that many offers. It's a real struggle.
Sarah, London

Being employed by the local council, I'm one of the few of my friends who doesn't have to worry about this kind of discrimination. In fact, I chose to leave my old job with a big international company and take this one instead simply because of how badly women who went off to have children were treated by the other company. I have friends in Sweden who receive a year's parental leave (can be shared between mothers and fathers). This is paid for out of taxes/NI contributions and therefore there's no qualifying period if a woman changes jobs and it's not so difficult for small businesses to hire women of child bearing age. Why doesn't our government do the same?
Christine, UK

No discrimination whilst pregnant, but huge problems in the past four years whilst working part-time; from mild comments to blatant "I don't know what you're going to do, being just a part-timer" from both my managers during the recent two reorganisations. I got moved onto a different, lesser job, the first time but managed to hang on and not get made redundant the second time.
Jacky, Woking, England

I can't believe the comments from Paul, Jim et al about how "maternity rights are far too much". Paul openly admits that he won't employ a woman of childbearing age - apart from being direct sex discrimination for which Paul could be sued for compensation, he's admitting he discounts all women aged between 16-45 in recruitment! How does that make good business sense?
Rachel, London

The only discrimination I came up against was that the company did a risk assessment of the job I was doing at the time and deemed it too dangerous for me to continue and so they downgraded my job scope for the length of my pregnancy. They were as accommodating as they possibly could be given the work I was employed to do. My problem came when I returned to work after the birth, I was still only allowed to work the downgraded position.
Sherry, Birmingham, West Midlands

The comments of some of the men on here make me ashamed to be a man! Women deserve all of the rights they currently receive and should enjoy our full support. As for the small businesses, they should see maternity costs as those incurred in the course of their business and make accounting provisions for them. Maternity rights are here to stay, time to get into the 21st Century gentlemen!
Z, UK




SEE ALSO:
Pregnant women 'lose their jobs'
29 Jun 05 |  Business


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