Having children bad for career?

Nearly three-quarters of UK working mothers say taking maternity leave had a negative effect on their careers. But is there reason for concern here?

Having children bad for career?

According to a new study by UK recruitment firm maternitycover.com, ‘Boardrooms and Babies’, seven in 10 women are worried about redundancy and feel their job is more vulnerable if they take statutory maternity leave after giving birth.

Also, a third of women said they thought they had been passed over for a promotion because they were of child-bearing age. While half the women of the 1300 surveyed said they would consider hiding their pregnancy from their boss if they were offered a new job or promotion.

However, New Zealand’s strong legislation means women here would have less to fear.

Galia Barhava-Monteith, co-founder of Professionelle, a charitable foundation dedicated to advancing women’s careers, told HRM Online while women would naturally be concerned about the issues raised in the survey, women here were fortunate to have protection from discrimination over maternity leave.

“International research does demonstrate the stronger the legislative base that is in place the more secure woman are when they are pregnant,” she said.

Minter Ellison Rudd Watts Lawyers partner Jennifer Mills added while maternity leave issues do arise in practice, “they do not seem to be occurring to the extent that there is cause for concern”.

Sometimes a case will arise where an employee is on extended leave an employer will realise that they can cope without that person’s role, Mills said, which can lead to a restructure of the business.

“There is also the risk that the employer will find an employee hired as a temporary replacement to be more efficient.  That may lead to the temporary employee being promoted in the business instead of the employee on maternity leave,” Mills said. “Although this is not a legal issue per se, we do find that employers will look at the ‘whole package’ when choosing someone for promotion. That may mean that an employee who does not have childcare responsibilities, and has the ability to work long hours, will be favoured over a new mother.”

The possibility of redundancy may be one of the UK women’s biggest worries but Barhava-Monteith said she wouldn’t expect similar findings here. She said the findings should have been divided into industries because the more prone an industry is to restructure the more likely a women is to worry.

“Woman would think about the implication of having children on their career. The less educated, the less specialised, the more vulnerable your position is,” Barhava-Monteith said.

While employers are entitled to dismiss employees on maternity leave in a genuine situation, women can take comfort that is becoming harder to make employees redundant.

“There is the risk that employers will implement “sham” redundancies to terminate the employment of someone on maternity leave.  However, the recent Employment Court decision of Rittson-Thomas t/a Totara Hills Farm v Davidson confirms that the courts will look closely into the rationale behind a decision to restructure,” Mills said. “It is therefore becoming much harder for employers to make employees redundant without a genuine basis for the redundancy.”

Employer obligations:

  • The Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993 both provide that it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee on the grounds of sex, which includes pregnancy and childbirth
  • Section 49 of the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987, provides that an employer is not able to terminate the employment of an employee by reason of her pregnancy or during her absence on parental leave
  • Employers are required to provide parental leave for all eligible employees
  • The law does not prevent employees from being dismissed for legitimate reasons. However, any dismissal must be for a good reason and must be done fairly.
  • If the employee is seeking a longer period of leave, you can decline to hold a ‘key position’ open. For a position to be described as ‘key’, proof is required that the position is critical to business and that it is not possible to find a short-term replacement for the employee.

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