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Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.

What is pregnancy discrimination?

An overview
Pregnancy at work

What you need to know


What is unlawful pregnancy discrimination?

It is unlawful pregnancy discrimination if your employer treats you less favourably:
  • On the grounds that you are pregnant
  • For any reason relating to your pregnancy, or
  • Because of illness related to your pregnancy.

What is less favourable treatment?

Less favourable treatment is where you are treated unfairly (less favourable treatment is the legal term) because of your pregnancy or pregnancy-related illness or because you want to take maternity leave.

Who is protected from pregnancy discrimination?

All employees, casual workers, agency workers, (who are pregnant) are protected from pregnancy discrimination from the first day of their employment.

You are protected when you are applying for a job or attending an interview. Employers must not take into account the fact that you are pregnant, or might become pregnant when making recruitment decisions.


In what situations is pregnancy discrimination unlawful?

Pregnancy discrimination is unlawful in the following situations:

  • Access to work related benefits and services; you are entitled to all contractual benefits during maternity leave, except pay.
  • Access to training and promotion.
  • Dismissal.
  • Any other disadvantage.

When are you protected from discrimination?

  • For employees entitled to statutory maternity leave, the protection from pregnancy discrimination lasts from the beginning of your pregnancy until the end of your additional maternity leave entitlement, or when you return to work. You are protected from pregnancy discrimination as soon as your employer knows, believes or suspects that you are pregnant. You do not have to tell your employer you are pregnant until 15 weeks before the baby is due to be born.
  • If you are not entitled to statutory maternity leave, you are protected from pregnancy discrimination from when your employer or prospective employer is aware of your pregnancy until two weeks after the end of your pregnancy. This is called the protected period.
  • Factory workers are prohibited from working for four weeks after giving birth regardless of whether they are entitled to statutory maternity leave. For factory workers not entitled to statutory maternity leave the first two weeks of that period will fall within the ‘protected period’ and they will be protected from pregnancy discrimination. Less favourable treatment after the ‘protected period’ up to the end of their compulsory four-week absence is likely to be pregnancy and maternity or sex discrimination.
  • If you do not tell your employer you are pregnant, you will not be able to ask for time off for antenatal appointments or to ask your employer to look at the original risk assessment for your job, to identify if there is anything else your employer needs to do to make sure either you or your baby are not exposed to risk. You will also not be protected from being dismissed or disciplined if you take time off for pregnancy-related illness.

Your rights during pregnancy

You must not be treated less favourably for any of the following reasons:

  • You are temporarily unable to do the job for which you are employed whether permanently or on a fixed term contract; because of your pregnancy.
  • You are temporarily unable to work because to do so would be a breach of health and safety regulations.
  • There are costs to the business of covering your work.
  • You are absent due to pregnancy-related illness.
  • You cannot attend a disciplinary hearing due to morning sickness or other pregnancy-related conditions.
  • Your performance at work is affected by morning sickness or other pregnancy-related conditions.

An employer will be acting unlawfully if because of your pregnancy, or pregnancy-related illness they:


  • Dismiss you.
  • Refuse to recruit you because you are pregnant or on maternity leave.
  • Refuse to allow you to take reasonable paid time off to attend antenatal appointments.
  • Criticise you for taking time off to attend antenatal appointments.
  • Fail to protect your health and safety where there are any risks. (See the Health and Safety Executive's website)
  • Change or remove your job responsibilities unless:

(i) it is necessary for health and safety reasons
(ii) you agree, or
(iii) it is to arrange cover just before your maternity leave.

  • Discipline you or treat you badly because of pregnancy-related illness.
  • Exclude you from business trips or refuse to allow you to travel, when it is still safe.
  • Refuse to let you have the same training opportunities as other employees.
  • Do not consider you for promotion.
  • Deny you a pay rise or bonus.
  • Treat you less favourably in another way, for example by ignoring you, or making hurtful comments about your pregnancy or maternity leave.

Other legal provisions (types of discrimination)

Other relevant legal provisions include protection from:

  • Direct sex discrimination, which is where you are treated less favourably than a man is or would be because you are a woman (not because you are pregnant).
  • Indirect sex discrimination which is where an employer applies a provision, criterion or practice to both women and men that puts women at a disadvantage compared to men and is not necessary for the business.
  • Victimisation which is where you are disadvantaged because you have made a complaint of discrimination.
  • 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. You can claim automatic unfair dismissal regardless of how long you have worked for your employer.
  • Unfair dismissal, which you can claim if you have worked for your employer for at least one year, and there is no ‘fair’ reason for your dismissal or there has been an unfair procedure.

Further information on unfair dismissal is available from the Labour Relations Agency's frequency asked questions

Subsequent Pregnancies: Are my rights the same for my second or other pregnancies?
Your rights are the same as if you had not been pregnant previously. Your employer must not treat you less favourably because you are pregnant.

You are entitled to take another period of maternity leave and you may be entitled to statutory maternity pay if you meet the normal qualifying conditions. You must give your employer notice that you are pregnant by the 15th week before your next baby is due and your employer will work out whether you qualify for statutory maternity pay. If you do not qualify for statutory maternity pay you can claim maternity allowance. For further information see NI Direct's website
< Pregnancy/Maternity rights at work (main page)
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