Azara Blog: Discrimination against pregnant women at work

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Date published: 2005/02/02

The BBC says:

Around 30,000 women a year are sacked or made redundant or leave their jobs due to pregnancy discrimination, research suggests.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) says half the 1,000 women questioned for its survey reported some level of bias against them.

EOC chair Julie Mellor said the findings were "shocking".

The organisation is asking the government to provide more support to both employees and employers.

"Although some employers knowingly flout the law, many businesses do face genuine challenges in managing pregnancy and simply don't know what their responsibilities are or what help is available to them," Ms Mellor said.

The EOC research indicated that 20% of respondents believed they lost out financially due to discrimination, and 5% said they were put under pressure to leave when they announced their pregnancy.

Sarah Holland fell pregnant when she had been working for a software development firm for almost five years, she told BBC One's Breakfast programme.

"I had been passing on e-mails to my partner about being excited about being pregnant and doing a test to confirm what we already knew," she said.

"We then had four days off together to celebrate. On coming back to the office that morning, I was immediately informed I was redundant.

"My boss said he had been thinking about it for the last 18 months, but he had no paperwork to back himself up at all. I was to work for three months to finish a project and then go."

Well this reads like an EOC press release, which the BBC just pretty much regurgitates without question. The EOC "research" is extremely unlikely to have involved a random sample, but instead a self-selecting sample, so the results are meaningless. They are doubly meaningless because they involve what the respondents believed, which is not necessarily the same as reality. And bringing up one example as "proof" that the report is correct is classic non-scientific mumbo-jumbo. Of course the EOC has to justify its existence so has to find discrimination whether it exists or not.

Having said all that, in this case the report is morally correct. Any small business would be crazy to hire a woman who might get pregnant because the associated costs are borne by the business, not society in general. If society believes pregnant women deserve a break then it is up to society to apportion the costs across society (via the tax system) and not burden small business. (Whether pregnant women deserve a break is another matter.)

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