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Human Resources

Pregnancy and Maternity

Pregnancy and maternity and the Equality Act 2010

Under the Equality Act, it is unlawful discrimination (which cannot be justified) for an employer to treat a woman unfavourably because of her pregnancy, because of a pregnancy-related illness, for breastfeeding in a public place, or because of maternity leave during the “protected period”.

The Equality Act introduced a new protection from discrimination for students during pregnancy and maternity by extending the protection that exists for women in employment to higher education. From 1 October 2010, a student who is pregnant, or has given birth within the last 26 weeks became explicitly protected from unfavourable treatment.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work

It’s unlawful to discriminate against you because:

  • you are pregnant, or
  • have a pregnancy-related illness.All employees have the right to take maternity leave.If you’re treated unfavourably after this, you could still be protected against discrimination because of your sex.
  • Once you’ve given birth, it’s also unlawful to discriminate against you for one of these reasons:
  • If you don’t have the right to maternity leave - for example, because you’re not an employee, the protected period ends two weeks after your child was born.
  • The protection against discrimination lasts for a specific period of time which starts when you become pregnant and continues until the end of your maternity leave, or until you return to work, if that is earlier. This is called the protected period.
  • you’re on maternity leave.
  • you’ve been on maternity leave.
  • you’ve tried to take maternity leave which you’re entitled to.

Less favourable treatment

Less favourable treatment means that you’re worse off because of the discrimination. For example, if you are not considered for a promotion at work. Unlike direct discrimination, there’s no need to compare your situation to someone else’s. All you need to show is that you were treated unfavourably because of pregnancy and maternity.

It doesn’t matter that the person treating you unfavourably didn’t mean to discriminate against you or that they were acting out of good intentions.


The Equality Act 2010 says that it is discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.

More information on your rights when breastfeeding in public places can be found at Maternity Action.

Circumstances when being treated differently due to pregnancy is lawful

It’s lawful for a service provider - for example a shop, swimming pool or gym club - to refuse to provide you with a service or treat you differently because you’re pregnant if there are health and safety reasons for doing this.

The service provider must reasonably believe there’s a risk to your health and safety if the service was provided to you. And it’s only lawful if they would also treat someone with other physical conditions (for example, someone with a back condition) differently for health and safety reasons.

Risk Assessment

If you are pregnant, you and your manager will need, early in the pregnancy, to review together:

  • the health and safety risk assessment for your work and workplace; and
  • how you may be affected while you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

The University has a form to help you do this; visit the HR Parental Leave policies page

Shared Parental Leave

You and your partner may be able to get Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if you’re having a baby or adopting a child.

You can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between you.

You need to share the pay and leave in the first year after your child is born or placed with your family.

You can use SPL to take leave in blocks separated by periods of work, or take it all in one go. You can also choose to be off work together or to stagger the leave and pay.

To get SPL and ShPP, you and your partner need to:

Further information can be found in Queen Mary's Parental Leave Policy page or visit SMD Parents for other useful information.

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