Keeping up with the Germans?

The Women and Equalities Committee has demanded that the government publish a detailed plan to tackle the issue of pregnant women and mothers being forced out of work by employers’ outdated attitudes.
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is often covert and regularly disguised as redundancy. It can be gradual and intensifying, or much more sudden (usually almost immediately following disclosure of pregnancy or return to work). Sometimes employers choose to discriminate by omission, perhaps failing to address health and safety concerns they would previously have been proactive about. The covert nature of this discrimination can make it more difficult for a mother to evidence the poor treatment and feel that her only choice is to leave her role. Research by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that pregnant women and mothers now face more discrimination than they did a decade ago.
In Germany, women and expectant mothers can only be made redundant in specified circumstances. The protection applies from the beginning of pregnancy until four months after childbirth. Dismissals will only be approved (by the state) in rare cases such as gross misconduct by the worker or the employer getting into severe financial difficulties. Increased protection from redundancy is just one of the recommendations the Committee has put forward in the UK for consideration by the government. They have cited the German system as a positive example. It is not to say that any changes would precisely mirror the German system, but would keep the UK in line with its peers. Other recommendations include:

  • potentially extending the three-month time limit for bringing a claim in pregnancy and maternity discrimination cases;
  • substantially reducing tribunal fees for discrimination cases;
  • extending maternity-related rights to casual, agency and zero hours workers;
  • an easily accessible and formal mechanism to compel employers to deal with concerns that a mother’s or baby’s health is being put at risk by their work; and
  • the Health and Safety Executive requiring employers to undertake individual risk assessments when they are informed that a women who works for them is pregnant, has given birth in the past six months, or is breastfeeding.
  • Theresa May has promised a bold, new positive role for the UK in the world. However, this is just one example whereby it remains helpful to understand how our neighbours are working to achieve best practice in common areas. No doubt the government will want to liaise with key interest groups in the UK before formalising any proposals.
Michelle Lamb

About Michelle Lamb

Michelle is a senior associate in the Employment team. She advises public and private employers on all aspects of contentious and non-contentious employment law, but specializes in TUPE, change programs, employment aspects of corporate transactions and discrimination complaints. Michelle regularly procures advice from other jurisdictions to support Dentons' multinational client base.

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