Discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity under the Equality Act 2010

What does the Act prohibit?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct discrimination and victimisation on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity.

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination occurs where a person treats another person less favourably than he or she treats or would treat others on grounds of pregnancy and/ or maternity. This includes the less favourable treatment of a woman who is breast-feeding.

Indirect discrimination and harassment are not prohibited by the Act. However, such conduct could amount to direct discrimination.

What is victimisation?

Victimisation occurs where a person is subjected to a detriment by reason of the fact that he has (or it is believed that he has or may) carried out one of the following acts:

  • brought or given evidence or information in proceedings brought under the Act;

  • the doing of something for the purposes of or in connection with the Act.

  • made an allegation that a person has contravened the Act.

However, the giving of false evidence or information, or the making of a false allegation is not protected by the Act if it is given or made in bad faith.

In what circumstances does the Act apply?

Employment

The Act applies to all aspects of employment including recruitment, terms and conditions of employment, training, promotions and transfers, bonuses, dismissals, disciplinary matters and redundancy.

A woman is protected from the beginning of the pregnancy (or when suspected) and until the end of her maternity leave or when she returns to work (if earlier) and cannot be discriminated against as a result of pregnancy related illness, absence during compulsory maternity leave and absence during any additional maternity leave to which she is entitled.

The only exception to the non-discrimination rule is that a woman on maternity leave is not entitled to her normal pay, unless her contract provides otherwise.

The Act applies to contract workers, partners of firms and anyone in vocational training as well as employees.

Other situations

The Act prohibits a person who provides services to the public or a section of the public (for payment or not) from discriminating against or victimising a person requiring a service by not providing the person with the service and during the provision of the service. A restaurant owner who asks a mother breastfeeding her baby to stop or leave the restaurant will, therefore, be unlawfully discriminating against her.

The Act also prohibits discrimination and victimisation in schools and further and higher education institutions by associations and in relation to the disposal, occupation and management of premises.

In such circumstances the woman is protected throughout her pregnancy and for a period of 26 weeks following the birth.

How is the Act enforced?

Where a provision of the Act is contravened proceedings can be brought through the Civil Courts. If the claim arises out of the employment of a person a claim can be brought in an Employment Tribunal.

A wide range of remedies are available to the Civil Courts and Employment Tribunals including the power to award compensation for injured feelings and to make recommendations to reduce discrimination in the workplace.

Normally claims brought in the Civil Courts will have to be brought within 6 years of the date of the act to which the claim relates and within 3 months in the case of claims brought in an Employment Tribunal.