Mothers across the West Midlands are being reminded of their rights amid concerns that many women still feel that having children puts them at a disadvantage at work.
Employment law expert Lisa Kemp says too many bosses are still not following the rules that are there to ensure women are not treated differently to their male colleagues just because they have had a baby.
Despite strict rules on equality at work, recent figures from the House of Commons library show that as many as 14 per cent of the 340,000 women who take maternity leave each year find their jobs under threat when they get back to their desks. Some are told they cannot have flexible working while others struggle to gain a promotion or worse, find them themselves constructively dismissed.
Miss Kemp, an assistant solicitor at Midland law firm mfg Solicitors, is urging working mums to take professional advice if they believe they have been treated unfairly.
She said: “Over the past 18 months we’ve seen sweeping changes to the country’s employment laws but we continue to see many women’s careers affected as their employers continue to overlook rules surrounding maternity rights.
“Any good employer knows the basic rule, that it is unlawful to treat an employee unfavourably because of pregnancy or maternity leave. But there is also legislation to ensure women on maternity leave are informed of opportunities for promotion or business restructures.
“It is a problem that is far more common than many people think. Aside from the recent House of Commons data, according to website Mumsnet, many women feel if they reduce their working hours they end up on the ‘mummy track’ and will lose out on pay rises and promotions.
“We are currently providing guidance on a variety of cases like this as part of our role in supporting women moving back into the workplace.
“We are advising to ensure they don’t lose out as many are finding their jobs have changed. In addition, we are receiving more and more enquiries from mothers who encounter issues after submitting a request for flexibility in working hours. These particular requests are being unreasonably declined.”
Miss Kemp said there were still ‘negative perceptions’ within the workplace and elsewhere about women with children – a situation highlighted recently by comments from members of UKIP.
She added: “You only have to listen to the remarks of people like the UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom and the party’s treasurer Stuart Wheeler to know that outdated views are still, sadly, commonplace.
“Mr Wheeler has said that women’s low representation on company boards is justified because they are not as skilled at chess or bridge as men. That comment has only heightened the issue again and while it will get the odd cheer from people who can’t accept we’re in the 21st century, it is certainly no way to support women who want a fair deal at work.
“Working mothers do not have to suffer in silence if they believe they are not being treated as equals. They must make sure that they obtain legal guidance about their rights and seek advice if they feel they have been treated less favourably because of their pregnancy, maternity leave or indeed because they are female.
“Many are fighting their corner but some aren’t. The longer they leave it the harder their situation will become.”
Miss Kemp is offering free initial consultation sessions for female workers who are looking for further advice on their employment situations.
To make an appointment people can email firstname.lastname@example.org