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Research – Press releases

16 November 2004

New reader survey suggests pregnancy at work is a problem for the finance sector

Nearly one in 10 respondents to a reader survey of HR professionals confirmed that their employers had given a pregnant employee a package to end her employment in the last three years. This rose to over a quarter of HR professionals in the finance sector. The reader survey was carried out for the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) by Personnel Today magazine and the 1,200 responses generated is the highest response the magazine has ever received for a survey of this kind.

About one in 20 respondents said that an employee had made a pregnancy or maternity related claim against their organisation at an employment tribunal in the last three years. In the finance sector the proportion was about one in seven and in retail one in 10.

The HR professionals said that the issues having the biggest negative impact on the way employers manage pregnancy at work are the complexity of the laws relating to pregnancy and maternity, line managers’ lack of knowledge about maternity rights, and a lack of senior management commitment to offering flexible working. Previous EOC research found that the majority of employers have positive attitudes to pregnancy in the workplace, but a l ack of awareness and understanding of their legal obligations is preventing many businesses from managing pregnancy effectively.

When asked which initiatives would help them most when managing pregnancy in the workplace, HR professionals put a single piece of legislation dealing with pregnancy and maternity, a code of practice for employers covering all legal rights and responsibilities and a toolkit to help employers manage pregnancy at the top of the list.

The reader survey was carried out for the EOC’s Pregnant and Productive investigation into pregnancy discrimination at work as part of a consultation process to ensure that the EOC’s investigation takes account of the issues employers face. Other research carried out for the investigation has also shown that one in five women who are pregnant while in employment are dismissed or suffer other financial loss as the result of a pregnancy.*

Julie Mellor, Chair of the EOC, says:

“This survey gives us a good indication of what’s currently going wrong – and what could be done to make pregnancy at work a more positive experience for employers and their employees. It’s clear that employers want more help in managing pregnancy, especially when it comes to understanding and implementing the law. Many understand that there are real business benefits to be gained from handling pregnancy well, such as better retention rates and increased productivity.

“The EOC will be taking these views seriously as we put together our final report and recommendations from our investigation into pregnancy discrimination at work.”

Notes to editors

  • The reader survey’s results are reported in this week’s issue of Personnel Today , published today ( www.personneltoday.com ).
  • Spokespeople from the EOC and Personnel Today magazine and a range of case studies are available for interview. Please contact the EOC press office for more details.
  • More detail on the survey results

Looking at what factors employers believe have the most adverse impact on their organisation’s ability to manage pregnancy in the workplace:

o 76% of respondents said line managers’ lack of knowledge about maternity rights

o 71% said the complexity of the laws relating to maternity rights

o 57% said a lack of senior management commitment to offering flexible working to women returning from maternity leave

When asked which initiatives would be most helpful in managing pregnancy in the workplace:

o 81% said a toolkit to help employers manage pregnancy at work

o 81% said harmonising the law so that all relevant provisions come under a single piece of legislation

o 82% said a code of practice for employers which covers all the legal rights and responsibilities relating to pregnancy and maternity

  • Quotes from respondents when asked to comment on what they believe would make managing pregnancy at work easier for employers:

“Encouraging employers to think more strategically about workforce planning and thinking about the financial side of the argument more rationally – that recruiting and training a new member of staff would be more expensive than providing fair maternity provisions for existing experienced staff.”

“Management buy-in that a pregnant employee need not be a burden.”

“Small businesses that do not have HR departments need to be advised what legislation is out there for employee protection. Many discriminate without even knowing they are breaking the law.”

“Many companies could be more flexible if they wanted to and some guidance in what options they could consider may help – for example it’s not just about part-time working but other options like job share and working from home could be considered.”

· The Personnel Today readers survey was carried out in August 2004. A third of survey respondents were from organisations with less than 250 employees; a quarter were from companies of between 251 and 1,000 employees; 30% were from organisation of between 1,000 to 10,000 employees and 12% were from organisations of between 10,000 and 50,000 employees. Two-thirds of respondents were from the private sector, 28% were from the public sector and 5% were from the voluntary sector.

  • About the EOC’s Pregnant and Productive investigation: the investigation was launched last year using the EOC’s statutory powers under the Sex Discrimination Act with funding from the European Social Fund. It aims to find out the scale of pregnancy discrimination, the impact of discrimination on families, employers and society, and what can be done to make pregnancy a more positive experience in the workplace. The investigation was launched because small-scale studies of employment tribunal decisions indicated that pregnancy discrimination was an ongoing problem and the EOC receives more calls to its helpline about this issue than any other, suggesting that some employers are not fulfilling their legal rights towards pregnant women. The investigation’s final report is due in March 2005. For more information see www.eoc.org.uk/pregnantandproductive .

· At the CBI conference on 8 November 2004 Julie Mellor called for m aternity leave to be made easier for employers to manage through a new dialogue with women workers. Following extensive consultation with business organisations, the EOC is backing calls for a ‘green light’ to ask women to indicate their return dates much earlier during maternity leave, where this is possible.

  • About Personnel Today: Personnel Today is the HR profession’s news magazine. It is the first and only weekly publication serving the human resources market. Published every Tuesday, it is delivered to the workplace of over 48,000 HR and training professionals. Personnel Today consistently sets the pace for news, practical business information and the latest jobs in the HR community. It also provides features, analysis and benchmarks data in an accessible format. Recognised at the highest levels of government and industry, it is a leading source of HR opinion.

* A full research report on the incidence of pregnancy-related discrimination will be published by the EOC early in 2005.

Media enquiries: EOC press team on 020 7222 0004

All other enquiries: EOC helpline on 0845 601 5901

Website: www.eoc.org.uk


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