According to Citizens Advice, if an employee is treated unfairly because they are pregnant, breastfeeding or have recently given birth, then this could be classed as an act of discrimination.
Under the 2010 Equality Act, this type of discrimination is termed pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
While it is unlawful, some employees still claim that they have experienced this form of discrimination in the workplace both in the UK and around the world.
Claims of pregnancy discrimination
One of those is reportedly Chelsey Glasson. Last year, Glasson sued her former employer Google alleging that she had been discriminated against while pregnant and also claimed that she had seen others being treated in a similar manner.
According to the Guardian, Glasson said that she faced retaliation from her manager after speaking up about it.
After this, the former Google employee said that the fight to win her case has almost become a full-time role, one that has put her up against an organisation with a global army of legal experts.
Despite having legal representation, herself, she said that she puts in long hours to prepare for the upcoming trial, spending nights after her children are asleep discovering documents and preparing.
She told the Guardian: “...It is heartbreaking to see how this impacts not just the person who is targeted by pregnancy discrimination, but the entire family,” she added.
The case first gained media attention after she published a widely shared internal memo which eventually went public and is something which HR Grapevine has previously reported on.
Back and fourth between 2018 and 2019, Google investigated a portion of the claims – but said it didn’t find any instances of policy violation – and Glasson then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2019. She then filed a lawsuit in July 2020. The tech behemoth continues to deny these claims.
When did the allegations start?
It was reported Glasson’s problems started in 2018 after she allegedly overheard a director criticising a pregnant colleague.
The employee was said to have been given negative feedback in a review after sharing the news of her pregnancy.
Glasson filed a complaint with HR claiming pregnancy discrimination against a fellow colleague, yet after this she claimed that the director began to retaliate against her and interviewed others to replace Glasson in her role.
According to the Guardian, Glasson said that the HR function acknowledged the retaliation but didn’t do anything to stop it.
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A few months down the line and Glasson decided to transfer teams to get away from the ongoing harassment and retaliation after becoming pregnant herself.
Yet, she claimed that her new manager made negative about her pregnancy-related health issues among other things.
In addition to this, five months before her maternity leave was due to take place, she was reportedly told by her boss that she would not be given any management responsibilities while she was pregnant over concerns that her maternity leave could “rock the boat”.
In January 2019, Glasson was taken to hospital for a pregnancy-related medical issue – something she believes was made worse by the stress and she had her baby in early March 2019.
A few days after, the tech giant reportedly asked her to leave the company in exchange for three months of her base salary. Speaking of the payout, she said: “It was a very small amount.”
In August 2019, she said that she received a short email in response to her complaint, which had previously been filed, stating that no evidence of pregnancy discrimination has been identified which prompted her to file the lawsuit.
Google responds to the allegations
In response to the Guardian’s comment request regarding these claims, the tech giant said that while it doesn’t comment on ongoing cases, it takes all of the allegations seriously.
A Google Spokesperson said: “Reporting misconduct takes courage and we want to provide care and support to people who raise concerns.
“All instances of inappropriate conduct reported to us are investigated rigorously, and we have simplified how employees can raise concerns and provided more transparency into the investigations process at Google.
“We work to be extremely transparent about how we handle complaints and the action we take,” the Spokesperson added.
The case is scheduled to go to court in December this year.
Best practice in the workplace
Following these allegations, this ongoing case shines a light on the importance of treating pregnant employees, as well as all employees, fairly and equally in the workplace.
Stephen Johnson, HR Policy Consultant at Moorepay, exclusively shared some best practice tips with HR Grapevine about supporting pregnant employees in the workplace.
Firstly, he said it is crucial for employers to carry out a risk assessment to ensure that they can continue to carry on with their role. “You may need to make reasonable adjustments to their duties depending on the type of work they do,” Johnson added.
Secondly, the HR expert said it is crucial to be flexible with time off for pregnancy-related absences. “Pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off for antenatal care. Plus, you can help manage morning sickness (where applicable), providing paid or unpaid leave for these absences,” he added.
Finally, he said it is crucial for employers to review current maternity provisions to see if further flexibility can be offered, as well as enhancements to financially support staff during this leave.