Action on discrimination

New group to improve approach to pregnancy and maternity in the workplace.

A new working group will meet in Glasgow for the first time this week to create guidelines for tackling pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace and encouraging best practice

The group, which will meet on Tuesday and is chaired by Minister for Employability and Training Jamie Hepburn, will look to improve the recruitment, retention and development of pregnant workers, as well as increase access to flexible working when women return from maternity leave.

The remit includes developing governance; reviewing and enhancing guidelines; ensuring employers, in particularly small to medium sized businesses, have more access to advice; and strengthening the advice pregnant women receive through NHS channels.

The establishment of the group follows Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) research published in 2015 which found that 11% of women interviewed reported having been dismissed, made compulsorily redundant, or felt that they had to leave their jobs when they were pregnant or on maternity leave.

Research also reported 51% of mothers had received negative treatment like having their job responsibilities removed after requesting more flexible arrangements on their return to work.

Mr Hepburn said:

“It is hugely disappointing that in 2016 pregnant women or new mothers returning to work after maternity leave should face discrimination in the workplace. 

“Clearly circumstances vary but ultimately we want to ensure that no-one is forced to choose between pursuing their career or their family responsibilities. Employers need to be more flexible wherever possible and give everyone the same opportunities to work.

“Our new working group will look at how we can remove these barriers and show employers that flexible working can boost morale and productivity.

"Recent female employment figures have been strong, particularly when compared to the rest of Europe.  We are closing the gender pay gap and we are making progress on the 5050 by 2020 pledge, with a number of organisations signing up. However we must not be complacent and I look forward to working on new guidance and advice with this new group so we can keep highlighting that motherhood does not detract from a worker's productivity or value.”

Alastair Pringle, Director of EHRC Scotland said:
“We are happy to be involved in this important working group which will pool resources towards reducing pregnancy and maternity discrimination in Scotland.

“Our research highlights flexible working as a key area of discrimination and disadvantage, where attitudes and behaviours in the workplace have not kept pace with legislation. Employees have the right to request flexible working and while most of the employers we interviewed were willing to accept these requests,  many mothers reported negative consequences for making them.

“Over half of mothers (51%) reported negative treatment (such as having job responsibilities removed) as a direct consequence of having a flexible working request approved. Urgent action is needed to address this. We strongly believe that employers should offer all jobs flexibly unless there is a reasonable justification not to and will assist the Scottish Government and employers across Scotland in ensuring best practice is developed across the country.

Nikki Slowey, Programme Director, Family Friendly Working Scotland said:

“We are pleased to be working in partnership with the Scottish Government and other key organisations to tackle these unacceptable levels of maternity and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. It is deeply disheartening that so many women face discrimination during pregnancy and on their return to work following maternity leave.

“Getting it right for mothers in the workplace has significant business benefits. This includes recruitment and retention -  for most businesses, recruiting (advertising costs, agency fees and interviewing time) and developing staff are amongst their most significant costs.

“Therefore, it makes sound business sense to protect this investment by focusing on retaining your female talent after they have taken time out for family reasons. Improvement in retention is a significant factor in achieving better gender diversity, especially at the higher levels of an organisation. For example recent research by McKinsey showed that companies across all sectors with the most women on their boards of directors consistently and significantly outperform those with no female representation – 41% increase on return on equity and 56% in terms of operating results.”


Group members include the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Family Friendly Working Scotland, STUC, COSLA, the NHS and Police Scotland.

Case studies of employees who have benefitted from flexible ways of working are available at:

Case studies of employers using innovative working practices can be found at:



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