One in four pregnant women have faced discrimination at work due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a new study shows. 

 

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) surveyed over 3,400 women, either pregnant or on maternity leave, on their experiences of work since the pandemic began. One in four of those interviewed reported unfair treatment or discrimination at work, including being singled out for redundancy or furlough. More than one in 10 pregnant women responding to the survey said that their employers had questioned their commitment since the beginning of the pandemic.

In addition, the study found that pregnant women’s health and safety rights are being routinely disregarded in the workplace. Women are left feeling unsafe at work, or without pay if they are unable to go to their place of work. Fear of unfair treatment means that pregnant women are also less likely to report unsafe working practices. 

According to the research, low-paid pregnant women are almost twice as likely to experience discrimination than women on median to high incomes. They’re more likely to have lost pay or been forced to take unpaid leave or sick leave when they were not sick. Many reported being asked to take maternity leave early or leave the workplace altogether, due to unaddressed health and safety concerns in the workplace.

These extra difficulties faced by pregnant women and new mothers extend to returning to work after maternity leave, too. 71 per cent of women in the survey planning to return to work in the next three months are currently unable to find childcare.

“Without immediate action from the government, women could be forced out of their jobs,” the report claims. “Decades of incremental improvements in gender equality at work will be reversed, working families will lose vital income and the gender pay gap will widen.”

The TUC recommends that the government increases protection from unfair redundancies, and requires employers to publish their retention rates of women workers taking maternity leave as part of mandatory gender pay gap reporting.

“The economic impact of the pandemic has put businesses in tricky situations regarding furlough schemes and redundancies, but mothers on maternity leave have an equal right to be a part of the conversation regarding unpaid leave or early maternity leave requests,” comments Wendy Powell, CEO of MUTU System, which conducts studies on women’s health in the workplace.

“We cannot take it to be coincidence that women in this category are the first on the list to be furloughed or made redundant.”

Has COVID-19 affected your pregnancy? Doctors and scientists at UCL are conducting a CAP-COVID public health study that you can participate in.

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