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Off the record: Navigating pregnancy discrimination rules

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25th Apr 2006
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Are there any ways around the laws that make it unlawful to discriminate against women on the grounds of pregnancy? Can bosses that would like to take on women of childbearing age but fear the costs associated with maternity pay and leave get round the problem? Find out what the experts say.

There are no ways around the laws that protect pregnant women from discrimination. Women must not be discriminated against on the grounds of pregnancy at the recruitment stage, pregnant women are entitled to maternity leave and pay and are normally entitled to return to their job following maternity leave. However, whilst some of the costs associated with employing a woman who is or becomes pregnant are unavoidable, there are a number of ways that you can protect yourself and your business from a certain amount of disruption that can occur in such circumstances.

As mentioned, you should not discriminate against pregnant women or women of childbearing age at the recruitment stage. If you treat these women any differently to other applicants during the recruitment process (that is you choose not to employ them because of their pregnancy or you fear that they may become pregnant), you lay yourself open to a discrimination claim. This is not a desirable situation to find yourself in as damages awarded in discrimination claims are uncapped and senior managers (who are likely to be involved in the recruitment process) may find themselves personally liable for part or all of these damages.

Whilst pregnant women and women of childbearing age are protected from discrimination during the recruitment process, you may lawfully decline to employ them if they do not possess the qualities needed for the job to which they are applying.

Clearly, such reasons will need to be genuine if they are to hold up to scrutiny and you are encouraged to keep interview notes to demonstrate to a tribunal, if needs be, that you have been fair and objective and acted for non-discriminatory reasons.

Should you employ a pregnant woman or a woman of childbearing age, they are entitled to ordinary maternity leave as a minimum and, depending on their length of service, may also qualify for additional maternity leave and maternity pay.

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