Maternity discrimination at work – will things ever change?

Maternity discrimination at work – will things ever change?

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) recently admitted liability for maternity discrimination at work in an Employment Tribunal in a claim brought by its former employee, Dr Lidster. It has been reported that Dr Lidster called UKRI prior to her return to work from maternity leave to be told that it would be “inappropriate” for her to return to the position she held as a senior scientist prior to her maternity leave.  Instead, she was offered a role with diminished responsibilities for four days a week resulting in maternity discrimination at work.

UKRI later informed Dr Lidster that her role no longer existed. However, a colleague sent her a job advert which was effectively the same role as the one she held and the individual who had been employed to cover Dr Lidster’s maternity leave had been offered the post.

Dr Lidster resigned. She brought claims for maternity discrimination at work because of pregnancy and maternity; and detriments relating to pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave and victimisation. The latter claim was withdrawn by Dr Lidster. 

UKRI admitted liability for maternity discrimination in the workplace. UKRI was ordered to pay the Claimant £23,000 plus interest in compensation. This is a first instance decision, so not binding and remember that every case turns on its own merits.

I find it astonishing that employers continue do this. Having a baby does not make you inept at your job. In fact, I have found since having my daughter I am by far a better employee. Time becomes precious at home and work and so often you get your head down and crack on (with an eye on the clock!).

What rights do you have if you are trying to return to work after maternity leave?

In the simplest of terms where an employee is on maternity leave, she has the right to return to the same role she had before she went on leave if she returns within 26 weeks. However, if an employee takes more than 26 weeks maternity leave and it is not possible for her to return to her previous role, she must be offered a suitable alternative role within the company on the same terms.

This can be a complicated area of employment law.  If you find that you are having trouble returning to work after maternity leave speaking to someone about your rights early on is key. There is a wealth of resources online regarding maternity discrimination at work. There are lots of useful links on our website here. Or you can speak to one of our team if you need assistance.

This blog was written by Joanne Sinclair, Trainee Solicitor, didlaw.