It is important to remember that people are not defined by any singular characteristic. Social determinants such as ethnicity, gender, disability, and sexual orientation combine and intersect to affect health and wellbeing, often varying across the life-course.   Everyone has at least five protected characteristics.

A narrow focus on one aspect of an individual´s or a group´s identity may therefore work to the detriment of understanding and responding to the reality of their lives and experiences.

Pregnancy is the condition of being pregnant or expecting a baby. Maternity refers to the period after the birth, and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context. In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth.

A woman is protected against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity. With regard to employment, the woman is protected during the period of her pregnancy and any statutory maternity leave to which she is entitled. Also, it is unlawful to discriminate against women breastfeeding in a public place.

The Equality Act 2010 provides women protection from pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work and outside of the workplace in areas including higher education and service provision.

Pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination can occur in employment if a woman is treated unfavourably because:

  • of her pregnancy
  • of pregnancy-related illness
  • she is on compulsory maternity leave (2 weeks or 4 weeks if she is working in a factory)
  • she is exercising her right to take ordinary or additional maternity leave

Pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination can occur outside of the workplace if a woman is treated unfavourably because:

  • of her pregnancy
  • she has given birth (within the past 26 weeks) and, in particular, because she is breastfeeding

On 4 November 2013 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced that it will be undertaking a new comprehensive research project into the scale of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace. The project will investigate employers’ practices towards employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave, and these employee’s experiences in the workplace to provide evidence on the extent, causes and effects of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. This information will enable the Commission and Government to shape the most appropriate response.