Women are still being discriminated against for being pregnant and taking maternity leave

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) has said that more than a fifth of complaints of discrimination they receive are about sex discrimination and of those 21.5% are to do with pregnancy or maternity.  Despite the existence of legislation to protect women against this type of discrimination many working women are still experiencing discrimination for being pregnant or for taking maternity leave.


This type of discrimination occurs across all sectors and happens to women holding all types and grades of jobs.  The ECNI support women to take claims of sex discrimination against their employers in these circumstances and have detailed a number of examples where they have helped women:


  • Pauline Kearney worked as a shop assistant for a Costcutters in Kilkeel.  She felt her employer became abrupt and made her feel uncomfortable after she told them she was pregnant.  When she contacted her employer about returning to work after her maternity leave she was not given her job back.  She said her employer told her she had only been taken on as temporary and they didn’t think she would get pregnant.
  • Mihiola Rea was employed a childcare assistant at Allstars Out of School Club.  Mihiola was dismissed while on pregnancy related sick leave shortly after telling her employer she was pregnant.  Her dismissal letter said that her employment would cease at the end of her probationary period but she believed she had already completed it as she had worked there for longer than six months.
  • Kelly English had worked for Biffa Waste Services as an Operations Manager for over ten years.  She was made redundant while on maternity leave and believed she was the only person made redundant at the time.  Kelly claimed she was not informed of suitable alternative employment and other employees also at risk of redundancy were able to attend employment training events.
  • Emma Carson was employed through an agency contract with Premiere People NI to work in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) at Scientific Officer level.  The project she was working on before her maternity leave was due to end, she was not assigned another project, and her contract was terminated.  Emma believed she had been unfairly treated and discriminated against for taking maternity leave.


All these cases were settled before they went to an Industrial Tribunal with each of the women being awarded compensation from their employer.  Each of the employers agreed to meet the ECNI to review their policies, practices and procedures on equality of opportunity.


Further information and advice on sex discrimination including pregnancy and maternity discrimination is available from the ECNI: