Are Maternity Rights in the UK Fair?

Maternity Rights bannerHow many of us dream of giving up the day job and staying at home to write full-time? Most of us, I bet.

But is our passion for the written word the only reason that we want to wave goodbye to regimented hours and the slippery ladder of promotion?

After reading a survey by Quality Solicitors I think there’s more to it than that – especially for women.

The survey focussed on maternity rights. Apparently 42% of women are nervous about telling their boss they’re pregnant and 39% believe that pregnancy is viewed negatively by employers.

I thought discrimination against women of child-bearing age ended years ago!

Back in the 1980s I experienced it as a graduate on the university milk-round when I was asked by one potential employer, “Do you think it’s worth educating women to degree level if they intend leaving work to have children?”

I argued that an educated mother would make sure her children were well-educated too and thus  be a benefit to society.

It happened again a few years later when I tried to change jobs as a newly-wed, one company asked, “When do you intend having children?”

“Not for a long time,” I said but I didn’t get the job.

At an interview most of us are happy to ask about the benefits that come with a position, such as the holidays, pension etc. but, according to the Quality Solicitors’ survey, only 15.4% of women ask about maternity benefits at interview – presumably because they are worried about not getting the job if they indicate an interest in having children.

But, it’s not right to heap all the blame for any unfair treatment of pregnant women on employers.

The survey revealed that 10% of the women questioned had accepted a job knowing they were pregnant. Of these women, just under half had the job offer withdrawn or their employment terminated when the employer found out.

Do you think it’s fair to accept a job without indicating that you will require maternity leave just a few months down the line? A large company could probably manage such a prolonged absence but it would place a heavy burden on a small business.

I think a pregnant woman should be open about her condition or start job-hunting after the birth.

There have been huge improvements in maternity rights over the last twenty years plus the introduction of paternity benefits as well. For example, from 2015 parents will be jointly entitled to one year’s parental leave following the birth of a baby and this leave can be split between the mother and father.

Anyone thinking of starting a family can find out exactly what they’re entitled to by clicking here. The full Quality Solicitors’ survey results are here.

So, am I right, are easier domestic and childcare arrangements part of the attraction of being a full-time writer? And have you ever suffered in the workplace for being a woman of child-bearing age?


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  1. #1 by Lesley on July 28, 2013 - 9:43 am

    That’s an enlightening post, Sally. I agree that women should leave job hunting until after they’ve had their baby. It does seem a bit unfair on employers to do otherwise. The results of the survey show that attitudes to social issues continue to take a long time to alter.

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on July 28, 2013 - 9:48 am

      Lesley, I suppose businesses are aware when they recruit women that a long maternity leave is possible and may be (albeit subconsciously) that makes them ultra careful.

  2. #3 by Anne Harvey on July 28, 2013 - 10:48 am

    I agree with Lesley, an enlightening post, Sally. As a retired Personnel Officer at a large university, it was a subject I was familar with. Fortunately, I simply had to follow the university’s guidelines so didn’t have to tackle the subject alone! I agree that it is unfair of women to accept a job knowing they will need maternity leave in a few months but does this stem from the inherent wariness that comes from being a woman?

    On an associated subject, as an female employee in the 1960s – 1970s, I was always asked about childcare etc. In fact, I was sacked from one job because I’d had to have so much time off with my then sickly daughter. Later, wearing my Personnel hat conducting interviews, I had to warn fellow interviewers that they couldn’t ask such questions. I had to point out that if a woman has applied for a job, we should presume she had her childcare arrangements worked out. If the interviewers were men, they didn’t like that!

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on July 28, 2013 - 6:24 pm

      Thanks for the insights, Anne. I think being a woman in the workplace can make us wary and we often feel the need to prove ourselves more than a man would. I read somewhere that men will apply for jobs when they only fulfil 30% of the requirements whereas a woman needs to feel absolutely sure they can do the job before they apply. Sorry to here that you were sacked – I wonder if that would be allowed now?

  3. #5 by Keith Havers on July 28, 2013 - 11:49 am

    Thanks for the info, Sally. I’m going to be a grandfather in January so I’ll be passing these links on to my daughter-in-law.

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on July 28, 2013 - 6:24 pm

      Congratulations, Keith. Hope all goes well in January!

  4. #7 by hilarycustancegreen on July 28, 2013 - 10:09 pm

    I have been in discussions on this subject many times. I argue that women should be able to work at the level of their qualifications and have reasonable access to maternity leave. However I do have a (male) friend whose working life was made very difficult and wearing by the repeated loss of a main assistant to maternity leave.
    I think the problem will continue until we have something like the Swedish system where ‘maternity’ leave is shared between both parents – with the father expected to take up his share. That way the employer has no incentive to prefer the man over the women – though he/she ma, of course, choose the man/women whose family appears to be complete.

    • #8 by Sally Jenkins on August 9, 2013 - 10:59 am

      Thanks, Hilary. Things do seem to work better in Sweden but it will probably be a long time before things are that way here.

  5. #9 by Writer / Mummy on July 29, 2013 - 11:34 am

    This has never affected me personally, although I have heard friends who have struggled with returning to work after having a child. That said, we are extremely lucky in the UK with the length of our paid maternity leave and the flexibility most employers have to offer to returning mums. My sister lives in the US and they only get a few weeks’ maternity leave.

    I became a writer full time when I realised I was never going to get back into the workplace on a part time basis (I was self-employed when I fell pregnant, so didn’t have an employer who had to take me back part-time). I love the flexibility of being a writer and fitting it around childcare, but at present I’m not making any money from writing, so it isn’t really a viable alternative to working!

    • #10 by Sally Jenkins on August 9, 2013 - 11:00 am

      Thanks for dropping by, Writer/Mummy. If only writing could give us a ‘livable’ income …

  6. #12 by Trademark Guy on July 30, 2013 - 10:43 am

    There has been some difficult debate about maternity rights, with the idea that in some situations women can never really go back to their job in the same way after having a baby. But this was really interesting, a woman certainly should be open, although it certainly puts her in a difficult position.

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