The politics of discrimination


The shadow of entrenched discrimination cast a long shadow over politics last week with the news that a senior Tory MP had publicly raised a question mark over Labour’s Rachel Reeves – shadow Work and Pensions secretary – ability to give her job ‘full attention’ while pregnant. It was an accusation that was quickly rebuked by frontbencher Reeves, who was right to point out the discriminatory nature of the remark – pushing it beyond traditional political jostling towards an infringement of rights and professional respect.

Discriminating against someone in the workplace – whether the Houses of Parliament or the local Tesco – because they are pregnant, breastfeeding or on maternity leave is unlawful, according to The Equality Act 2010. Pregnancy is a protected characteristic and so signalling someone out for unfavourable treatment because if their pregnancy, making them worse off in the process, in a form of discrimination that will likely be punished by an employment tribunal, should it get that far. It is important that organisations are aware of this potential liability and factor it into their employment policies as well as staff training on expected behaviour.

The protection against discrimination lasts for a specific period of time, which starts when the employee becomes pregnant. This is called the Protected Period, which ends when the employee returns from maternity leave. However, treating employees unfavourably after this could still result in tribunals and potential fines because the new mother is likely to be protected by her sex, which is another protected characteristic set out in The Equality Act 2010.

Employers should be aware that they are responsible for implementing ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace for pregnant employees.