Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Mother of All Dilemmas; LONDON JOBS

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Mother of All Dilemmas; LONDON JOBS

Article excerpt


HARRIET Davies-Tahieri, 32, formerly a solicitor with the law firm Proddow Mackay, has just been awarded [pounds sterling]31,000 in costs and compensation for sex discrimination and wrongful dismissal. In February last year, she was promoted. A month later, she discovered she was pregnant. Shortly after, she was suspended for alleged misconduct.

She was eventually sacked eight days after she lost her baby, Benjamin.

She had developed pre-eclampsia and other complications.

"After three years - without a single previous complaint - I was marched out of the building without even being allowed to clear my desk. I felt bitterly hurt and betrayed," she said last week.

The delicate terrain that is pregnancy politics is often difficult to navigate for both employer and employee, but all the more so when the company has only a handful of people. Four out of every five businesses in this country employ a staff of 20 or less. The majority of new small businesses are headed by women, who do not automatically show sympathy with a pregnant member of staff.

The evidence indicates that female employees are more discriminated against than abusers of the system.

Still, owners of a small enterprise face particular difficulties when, for instance, several women became pregnant at the same time, since they lack the elasticity of larger organisations.

They are also much more vulnerable to the impact of the maternity scam perpetuated by a small proportion of women - those who reveal after, say, two months in the job, that they have "just" discovered they are pregnant, then give birth three months later. Under present legislation, the boss has to keep their job open for 12 months.

In the autumn, the Equal Opportunities Commission launches a formal investigation into pregnancy in the workplace and maternity leave in the hope that it can chart a fairer course for both worker and boss.

The true extent of discrimination is hidden since most women choose not to take action. However, in 2001, they made 2,000 enquiries to the Equal Opportunities Commission's helpline.

Complaints included changes in hours and salary, constant criticism, Should the boss panic the minute he spots a swollen stomach? Harriet (right) has her own particular office horror story to tell of the consequences of getting pregnant, but a new commission's findings should help both employers and employees alike Within small companies, attrition can be particularly intense - some of it fuelled by the boss's ignorance of what maternity law now demands.

Take the case of one 25-year-old we shall call Vicki.

She worked as a part-time chef in a pub, five evenings a week, for a year, one of a staff of 18. Her boss was so pleased with her work that she provided a taxi home on a Sunday. …

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