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Pregnancy and maternity: key legislation

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An outline of issues of equality law specific to pregnancy and maternity

In England, Scotland and Wales, the Equality Act 2010 brought together and harmonised equality legislation. Our Equality Act 2010 law page contains an overview of the Act and should be read in conjunction with the information here.

Specific issues of the law covering pregnancy and maternity are also detailed below.

Legislation in Northern Ireland is different, and is covered in the section below. This should be read in conjunction with the following briefing:

England, Scotland and Wales

The Equality Act 2010 provides women protection from pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work and outside of the workplace in areas including higher education and service provision.


Pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination can occur outside of the workplace if a woman is treated unfavourably because:

  • of her pregnancy
  • she has given birth (within the past 26 weeks) and, in particular, because she is breastfeeding

Pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination can occur in employment if a woman is treated unfavourably because:

  • of her pregnancy
  • of pregnancy-related illness
  • she is on compulsory maternity leave (2 weeks or 4 weeks if she is working in a factory)
  • she is exercising her right to take ordinary or additional maternity leave

Previous legislation

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (as amended) has been revoked as parts of the Equality Act 2010 commenced. Much of the Act was revoked in October 2010 and the gender equality duty was revoked on 6 April 2011.

However, the Act can still be relied on where the discriminatory act complained of (such as a case of pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination) occurred wholly before 1 October 2010.

The gender equality duty has been replaced by the public sector equality duty of the Equality Act 2010. There are separate specific duties for England, Scotland and Wales.

Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Act 1998 established the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly. Anti-discrimination legislation is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity leave in employment and vocational education.

In addition, Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 places Northern Irish public authorities, including higher education institutions, under a duty to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between men and women. Northern Irish higher education institutions have to meet specific duties in relation to this general duty.

Further information