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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.


Pregnancy and maternity

What you need to know


Recruitment - pregnancy and maternity

What are my responsibilities when considering job applicants?

When considering job applicants, you should appoint the best person for the job on merit and ability and not reject an applicant, because she is:
  • Pregnant (which would be pregnancy discrimination).
  • Likely to become pregnant (which would be sex discrimination).
  • Has just taken, or is about to go on maternity leave (which would be maternity discrimination).

Can I interview only applicants who are not women of child-bearing age?

No, not if the reason you are not interviewing applicants of child-bearing age is the possibility that a woman might become pregnant, or because of her age.  You are legally required not to discriminate against applicants because you think they might become pregnant or because of their age.

If the best candidates happen to be those who are not women of child-bearing age, it would not be discrimination as the selection would be on the basis of merit, not age or becoming pregnant.  If challenged by an unsuccessful applicant of child-bearing age, your defence would be to show that the selection was on the basis of merit.

Can I offer a pregnant woman a temporary job until she starts her maternity leave?

You must not offer a pregnant woman a temporary job until she starts her maternity leave, if you would have offered her a permanent job had she not been pregnant. Offering her a temporary job in those circumstances is treating her unfavourably on the grounds of her pregnancy, which is unlawful discrimination.

If I am advertising a new job, must I tell an employee who is on maternity leave?

Yes, if you are advertising a new job you must tell an employee on maternity leave and she must be given an opportunity to apply for the job if she wants to.

What if an employee cannot attend an interview because she has just given birth?

It is good practice to adjust the interview date if it is planned to be near the time of the birth. An employee must not be disadvantaged because of being on maternity leave, though this does not mean waiting until the end of her maternity leave to have the interview. It is good practice to discuss timing with her.

Can I ask a job applicant whether she is pregnant or planning to have children?

No, this should be avoided. You are legally required when making recruitment decisions not to consider that a woman is pregnant, or might become pregnant. It is unlawful to not appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant.

The job must be offered to the best candidate based on skills and experience.

Can I ask applicants about their families even if it is just part of a friendly chat?

No, this should be avoided. You are legally required, when making recruitment decisions, not to consider a woman’s family commitments. It is unlawful to not appoint a woman because she currently has children or is planning to have children. The job must be offered to the best candidate based on skills and experience. 

If a woman lies about her pregnancy at her interview, is that a breach of trust, which means I can dismiss her?

No, a pregnant woman is not under any obligation to disclose her pregnancy during an interview. Dismissing her for not mentioning her pregnancy would be pregnancy discrimination.

If I find out that a woman is pregnant after offering her a job, can I withdraw the job offer?

No, this would be pregnancy discrimination as the reason for withdrawing the offer of a job is because she is pregnant. You are legally required not to take into account the fact that a woman is pregnant, or might become pregnant when making recruitment decisions.

If the applicant is on or about to go on maternity leave, must I consider her when I need someone in post immediately?

Yes, you must treat her the same way as any other job applicant, except you may have to wait for her to start work if she is on maternity leave. You can discuss when she might start.

It would be maternity discrimination if, because of her maternity leave, you:

  • Refused to interview her or did not appoint her to a job if she was the best candidate.
  • Gave her a job for a limited period instead of permanent employment.
  • Insisted she started work when she was on maternity leave unless she agreed.
  • Offered her a lower salary or other different, less favourable terms.

I have been asked to give reasons why a pregnant job applicant was refused a job. Must I respond?

You are not legally required to respond unless a discrimination questionnaire has been issued. Generally, if the job applicant asks questions about why she did not get the job, it is good practice to give your reasons and explain why another candidate was more suitable.

I have offered a woman a job, which was advertised as full time, can she ask to work part-time in this role?

Yes, she can ask to work part time or ask to have a different working pattern after you have offered her the job.  While the statutory right to request flexible working does not apply until she has been employed for 26 weeks, employees who have less than 26 weeks continuous service may have the right to complain of indirect sex discrimination if a request to work flexibly is denied.
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