Pregnant woman
Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that pregnancy and maternity discrimination forces thousands of new mothers out of their jobs iStock/Izabela Habur

Around 54,000 new mothers and pregnant women are forced out of their jobs in Britain, pointing to discrimination at the workplace, a new survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has revealed.

In what is termed as the largest survey of its kind in the UK, IFF Research Ltd interviewed 3,254 mothers with a child under two years of age from 3,034 workplaces across the country.

The survey found "11% of the women interviewed reported having been dismissed, made compulsorily redundant where others in their workplace were not, or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their jobs".

EHRC states that if the findings are replicated across the population as a whole, this could mean as many as 54,000 women lose their jobs each year.

On the other hand, the research, which was conducted in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, also shows that many employers, across a range of industries, say they are firm supporters of female staff during and after their pregnancies, and find it easy to comply with the law.

"Around 84% of employers believe that supporting pregnant workers and those on maternity leave is in the interests of their organisations. Around 8 out of 10 employers agree that pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave are just as committed to their work as their colleagues," the survey states.

Moreover, 66% of employers do not think that pregnancy puts an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace. Firms that have recent experience of employing pregnant women are more positive, which was in concurrence with the same percentage of mothers feeling that their employers supported them willingly during pregnancy and when they returned to work.

However, the research suggests that for some women pregnancy and maternity at work was not a positive experience. Around 10% of new mothers and pregnant women were discouraged by their employer from attending antenatal appointments, while 9% said they were treated worse by their employer on their return to work than they were before pregnancy.

About 7% said they were put under pressure to hand in their notice. When mothers were allowed to work flexibly, around half of them reported feeling their opinion was less valued.

The impact on younger mothers -- those under 25 years of age – was greater in many areas, with around 6% experiencing dismissal, compared with 1% across all age groups.

EHRC's deputy chair Caroline Waters says: "This research reveals the worrying levels of discrimination and disadvantage at work that women still face today. Not only is discrimination unlawful, but it is also bad for business.

"That's why today we're launching a major initiative to bring this issue into the public eye, improve awareness of the law and work with business and other groups to find workable solutions," she added.

Discrimination against pregnant women and those on maternity leave is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 in the UK.

It is unlawful for an employer to treat a woman unfavourably because she is pregnant, is ill because of her pregnancy, is on maternity leave, has taken maternity leave or has tried or intends to take maternity leave.