The protection afforded to pregnant women or women on maternity leave applies from the start of pregnancy to the end of maternity leave. This is known as the “protected period.” The protection applies to job applicants as well as existing workers and employees.
An employer must not discriminate against a woman during the protected period because of any illnesses that she suffers from as a result of her pregnancy or maternity. For example, an employer may wish to record that absences are because of pregnancy or maternity but not include them when it comes to reviewing her attendance for disciplinary purposes.
It is unlawful to treat a woman unfavourably because she is on compulsory maternity leave, or because she is seeking to or exercising her right to ordinary or additional maternity leave. Banter, for example about pregnant employees going ‘on holiday’ rather than maternity leave would be an example, as would overlooking someone for a bonus, promotion of other career opportunity.
There are additional protections offered to pregnant women or those on maternity leave during redundancy situations. For example, an employer must ensure that those on maternity leave are properly consulted about the redundancy situation and that that redundancy selection criteria does not discriminate. This could mean that absences connected with pregnancy and maternity should not be included. In addition, if someone on ordinary or additional maternity leave is potentially going to be made redundant, she is entitled to be offered any suitable available vacancy in priority to other potentially redundant employees.