Across smaller companies the commission found common problems, including very little or no experience of dealing with pregnant women and so a lack of sufficient resources to pick up on any problems that arose.
For the mums to be themselves, the picture also looked pretty bleak. Only half felt that they were fully aware of their own rights and responsibilities at work. One in six of the people questioned said she felt her employer did not treat her very well while she was pregnant. And one in four mothers did not feel she was treated correctly on her return to work. That’s a lot of unhappy women, so the EOC has decided to try to bridge this knowledge gap and make the whole process a lot easier for everyone involved.
Responding to these alarming facts, the commission has produced a toolkit for employers and employees that aims to enlighten them about their rights and responsibilities.
Jenny Watson, chair of the EOC, explains: “Women are nearly half the workforce. There’s no turning back from this major social change, so it’s vital that workplaces are equipped to make pregnancy at work a good experience.
“If we fail to tackle the knowledge gap surrounding the rights of pregnant women and new parents at work, we run the risk of seeing these women drop out of the workforce altogether. Those who have been unfairly treated whilst pregnant suffer financially and emotionally and are far less likely to return to their jobs. As well as damaging families, this costs employers millions in recruitment and training and causes significant damage to Britain’s economic productivity.
“As a result of our earlier investigation, all pregnant women are now supplied with a statement of their rights and responsibilities early on in their pregnancy. Employers now have the green light to ask mums on maternity leave for more notice about returning to work, with an eight week notice period. Now, this new toolkit will provide the support that employers have told us they need.”
But it’s clear that smaller businesses will still need more and continuing support to fully address the knowledge deficit and lack of resources. For this reason, the EOC is pressing for more financial support from the government for micro-employers to compensate them for the costs of recruiting and training maternity cover and developing existing staff.
Stephen Alambritis, head of parliamentary affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses, says: “We welcome the launch of this very useful toolkit for employers. The more support small businesses are given, the greater the chance that they will understand their rights and obligations in this crucial area. This is all the more important, given the EOC investigation’s finding that smaller businesses encounter, on average, one pregnancy per 10 years.”