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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.

Unfavourable treatment

 & legal provisions
Pregnancy/Maternity at work

What you need to know


What is unfavourable treatment?

Unfavourable treatment is when an employee is treated badly or poorly on the grounds of her pregnancy or pregnancy related illness, or because she is seeking to take maternity leave.

Pregnancy Discrimination

You must make sure that neither you nor your employees, treat an employee unfavourably on the grounds of her pregnancy, or pregnancy related illness, for example:

  • Refusing to recruit her because she is pregnant or on maternity leave.
  • Refusing to allow her to take reasonable paid time off to attend antenatal appointments or criticise her for taking time off to attend antenatal appointments.
  • Failing to protect her health and safety where there are any risks.
  • Dismissing her.
  • Changing or removing her job responsibilities unless:
- Necessary for health and safety reasons or;
- To arrange cover just before her maternity leave.
  • Disciplining her or treating her less favourably because of pregnancy related illness that occurred during the protected period.
  • Excluding her from business trips or refusing to allow her to travel, when it is still safe.
  • Refusing to let her have the same training opportunities as other employees.
  • Not considering her for promotion.
  • Denying her a pay rise or bonus.
  • Otherwise treating her unfavourably, for example by ignoring her or making hurtful comments about her pregnancy or maternity leave.


Maternity Discrimination

You must make sure that neither you nor your employees treat an employee unfavourably because of her taking, trying to take or having taken maternity leave.

Some examples are where a woman is:

  • Unfairly made redundant; this would include failing to consult her because she is on maternity leave, disadvantaging her in the selection process, not offering her suitable alternative available work.
  • Not being considered for promotion.
  • Not offered training; it is particularly important to give an employee the opportunity of attending training if this will affect a pay rise or promotion.
  • Not told about job opportunities.
  • Not consulted about a re-organisation which affects her job in a detrimental way.
  • Not allowed to return to the same job after maternity leave or some of her responsibilities are removed or re-allocated.
  • Dismissed.

In some situations you may need to treat a woman on maternity leave more favourably to remove any disadvantages she might suffer because of being on maternity leave.

Employers’ Liability

Where one of your employees treats a woman unfavourably on the grounds of her pregnancy you, as the employer, are legally responsible for your employee’s discrimination/actions unless you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination happening in the first place.

Other relevant legal provisions include protection from:

Direct sex discrimination

Direct sex discrimination, which is where a woman is treated less favourably than a man is, or would be, because she is a woman (not because she is pregnant).

For example, it would be direct sex discrimination to refuse to recruit a job applicant because you fear that she may later become pregnant after you have appointed her.

Indirect sex discrimination

Indirect sex discrimination, which is where there is a provision, criterion or practice, which applies to both women and men that puts women at a particular disadvantage compared to men and is not necessary for the business.

For example, if a woman worked full-time prior to when she became pregnant she might wish to work part-time after her return from maternity leave. To refuse to allow her to do so might be indirectly sex discriminatory unless you can justify your decision.


Victimisation, which is where a woman is treated badly because she previously made a complaint of discrimination.

Protection from a detriment

Protection from a detriment (that is some form of connected disadvantage), which is where an employee is disadvantaged on the grounds of her pregnancy, maternity leave or other type of family leave.

For example, where you refuse to allow a new mother or her partner to take any period of shared parental leave to which they are entitled.

Automatic unfair dismissal

Automatic unfair dismissal, which is where an employee is dismissed because she is pregnant or is taking, will take, or has taken a type of family leave. For more information on unfair dismissal contact the Labour Relations Agency
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