14 OCTOBER 2015

Earlier this year the Equality and Human Rights Commission published their robust and detailed report on pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the UK. It stated that approximately 54,000 women a year are pushed out of their jobs from the point they announce that they are pregnant.

This figure does not account for the women who are self employed, women who are demoted or those who are ignored for promotion, and it does not account for the women who are unknowingly penalised for being of childbearing age. This shocking figure is just the tip of the iceberg.

On International Women’s Day, March 2015 I launched a campaign called Pregnant Then Screwed, designed to expose this systemic problem. It is a safe place for women to tell their stories in their own words. It makes for heartbreaking but insightful reading.

The two worst offenders that prevent women from challenging pregnancy discrimination are the introduction of fees and the three-month time limit. As the law stands, you have three months to take a case to tribunal from the point at which you have been subjected to any kind of workplace discrimination.

For maternity discrimination, those three months usually come at a time when you are exhausted, lacking in confidence and knee-deep in baby poo. Making your lunch every day can feel like climbing Mount Everest; masterminding an employment tribunal would feel nigh-on impossible.

Since the Government introduced new fees for employees to use the tribunal system, there has been a 79% drop in employment tribunals: many discrimination cases are very hard to prove, so when you have more to lose financially, you are less likely to take the risk, especially if you are thinking about providing for your family.

I was sacked by my main employer when I was four months pregnant. They sacked me by voicemail two days after I had informed them that I was pregnant. Initially I was shocked, terrified and hurt but slowly those emotions turned to outrage.

With no knowledge of my statutory rights and no experience of attempting to navigate the complex legal world, I almost gave up. A law firm I found suggested they write a letter to the company demanding compensation. The letter cost me £250. The company just threw it in the bin.

The law firm informed me that taking the company to tribunal would likely be a long and painful process and I would need to pay more money upfront. I was four months pregnant, unemployed and then discovered my pregnancy was high risk and I shouldn’t get stressed. Ultimately I was left with no choice but to walk away. I had been kicked in the teeth by my employer, then screwed over by a legal system that was meant to facilitate justice for everyone, not just the elite.

A Ministry of Justice committee is reviewing fees for employment tribunals. From my own personal experience and from the hundreds of stories I have received through Pregnant Then Screwed I am very aware of the detrimental impact fees are having on women across the UK.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination are on the increase (figures have doubled in the last 10 years). The introduction of a fee structure makes justice unimaginable for those without the funds to support it. If we let this pass without a dramatic change, discrimination against pregnant women and mothers will continue to take place, crushing women’s confidence, stagnating their abilities and costing the economy untold amounts through lost potential.

If you have any evidence to support a change in the fee structure then please submit this information to Justice Committee’s Inquiry. (It is still taking submissions at this time)

If you have been a victim of pregnancy or maternity discrimination please post your story.

Joeli Brearley, founder of the pregnant then screwedABOUT AUTHOR 

Joeli Brearley is the founder of the global project and campaign, 'Pregnant Then Screwed,' designed to expose the systemic problem of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. She works in media art, has a two-year-old son and another one on the way.