How to prevent pregnancy discrimination in the workplace

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Health Assured team

25 July 2019

Expecting a baby is a time of joy—a new life approaches and exciting times lie ahead. But it can also be a stressful time for employees.

Pregnancy isn’t always the easiest time, with sickness, discomfort and emotional hardships all possible.

These can make it difficult to work hard—or even work at all. So, as an employer, what do you need to know—and what can you do to help?

What is pregnancy discrimination?

If you treat an employee unfairly at work because she’s pregnant—that’s pregnancy discrimination.

Unlike in the USA, there’s no specific pregnancy discrimination act in the UK.

Instead, Section 18 of the Equality Act 2010 covers our laws against pregnancy discrimination, with the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004 providing extra protection in Ireland.

As with all forms of discrimination under the Equality Act, this is a serious issue. A woman has the protection of the act from the moment of conception to the end of statutory maternity leave—that’s as much as 52 weeks after the birth of her child.

What are the types of pregnancy discrimination?

The Equality Act can sometimes be arcane and difficult to interpret. But when it comes to pregnancy and maternity discrimination, there’s only one type. Simply, you can’t treat anyone unfavourably while knowing that they’re expecting.

This means that you can’t let your actions and decisions affect someone negatively. It’s ok to make positive adjustments to the workplace—moving a pregnant woman to a desk closer to the bathrooms, for example, or allowing them an extra hour in the morning to deal with sickness.

Here are a couple of negative pregnancy discrimination in the workplace examples:

Pregnancy hiring discrimination

A woman has applied for a position at your company. During her interview, you suspect that she’s pregnant, and ask when she’s expecting. She looks surprised, and responds ‘at the end of January’. You decide not to give her the position.

You shouldn’t ever ask during an interview if someone is pregnant—they’re not actually obliged to tell you, and if you don’t hire them—even for other reasons—they can claim that you denied them the job due to their pregnancy.

Pregnancy promotion discrimination

A woman—currently on maternity leave—has been a good worker for years, and would make an ideal manager. However, when a position comes up, you decide not to email or call her to let her know, thinking that she has enough to worry about with a new baby. You fill the position with an external hire.

When someone is on maternity leave, you need to keep them as informed as everyone else about pay rises, bonuses and internal vacancies/promotions.

Failure to do so can lead to legal problems.


As we can see, pregnancy and maternity discrimination is a bit of a minefield.

Not complying with the Equality Act can land you in pretty hot water—see this pregnancy discrimination compensation calculator for details of how much it could cost.

Contact Health Assured today on 0844 892 2493 for advice and guidance on the best ways to treat pregnant employees.

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