Protecting new mothers from workplace discrimination


A female staff member has recently returned from maternity leave and you ask that they undergo training. Yet do you know that what you are doing could be classed an act of unlawful discrimination?

The Employment Tribunal considered this question in the case of Hamilton v Chief Constable of Merseyside Police and concluded on the facts of the case that the answer is yes. The Claimant was a female police officer who on her return from maternity leave was required to undergo a two firearms training courses. The courses were extensive and required the officer to stay overnight for portions of the training. The Tribunal’s conclusion was that the training represented an unfair disadvantage to new parents but especially new mothers. As a result, the officer’s claim for sex discrimination was upheld.

In relation to protection of new mothers, the case law and legislation has already guaranteed several rights which employers need to be mindful of, that, If not fulfilled, could amount to unlawful discrimination on the grounds of either pregnancy or sex. These include:

  • The right to have any pay rises on their return to work that would have been given had they not been on maternity leave
  • The right to be offered any job/promotion or training opportunities whilst they are on maternity leave
  • Priority in a Redundancy situation, whilst on maternity leave, for alternative roles which may be available

This case serves as a reminder to employers of their obligations to new mothers who return to work following maternity leave. Interestingly, in the context of offering training to employees this case could potentially conflict with the EHRC code which recommends offering any opportunities for training to woman on maternity leave (Paragraph 17.69). The potential confusion is unlikely to be helpful to employers. In practice it may be that training should be offered on a voluntary basis to returning mothers. Or perhaps measures should be put in place to ease the burden of child care on consultation with the employee.

Related articles:

When protecting pregnant employees is really discrimination:

What is reasonable adjustment for pregnant employees?:

Jack Troup

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