The Dangers of Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination during the Recruitment Process

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The law around pregnancy and maternity discrimination is very clear being a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act 2010. This means it is unlawful to discriminate either directly or indirectly on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity.

A recent survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) of over 1,100 employers in the private sector has revealed some startling results.
  • 36% of respondents considered it reasonable to ask women about their future plans to have children
  • 59% of respondents stated a woman should have to disclose the fact that she is pregnant during the interview process
  • 46% of respondents considered it acceptable to ask female interviewees whether they already have young children
  • 44% of respondents considered that female employees should be required to work for at least one year before deciding to have children
  • 44% of respondents considered that women who have more than one pregnancy whilst in the same job are a “burden” to their team
  • 32% of respondents believe that a woman who has become pregnant and new mothers in work are “generally less interested in career progression” than their colleagues
  • 41% of respondents considered pregnancy imposes an “unnecessary cost burden” on the employer.
So, with these views so common amongst employers, how do you avoid a potential discrimination claim?
  1. Check that your entire recruitment process is non-discriminatory, eg application forms, interview questions.
  2. Do not ask an applicant if they have children or plan to have children in the future – this could lead to a claim for direct sex discrimination.
  3. Ask open questions such as “Tell me about yourself.” It will then be down to the candidate whether or not they tell you they have young children, etc.
  4. If you decline a candidate of child-bearing age or you know is pregnant or has young children, always make sure you have robust and objective reasons for choosing another candidate such as more relevant skills or experience, a higher level of qualifications or scored higher marks on your interview questions.
  5. Follow a pre-prepared interview plan asking the same questions of each candidate. Consider scoring each question or giving an overall score at the end of the interview based on the key requirements of the role. It will be difficult for a candidate to prove discrimination during the recruitment process if you have evidence to support your decision.

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