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What happens when a pregnancy-related illness extends beyond the protected period?

Women are protected in equality legislation from being treated unfavourably because of their pregnancy or illnesses related to their pregnancy.

Protected period

This applies within a 'protected period' starting from the beginning of pregnancy and stopping at the end of maternity leave, or when they have returned to work.

For women without the right to maternity leave, the protected period stops 'at the end of the period of two weeks beginning with the end of the pregnancy'.

But what happens if a pregnancy-related illness continues beyond the end of this protected period, and a woman is treated unfavourably because of it?

Long-term post-natal depression

Such a situation was the subject of a recent discrimination claim when a women suffering from long-term post-natal depression wasn't able to return to work after her maternity leave ended, and was dismissed by her employer several months later.

Both the employment tribunal and then the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) dismissed the discrimination claim. They said that the unfavourable treatment - the dismissal - had happened outside of the protected period.

The EAT referred to a European Court of Justice ruling that said that after the protected period had finished the employer was permitted to treat a pregnancy-related illness from that point in the same way as a man's illness 'in computing any period of absence justifying dismissal'.

It went on to say that if Parliament had intended to extend the protection relating to pregnancy or maternity, the necessary provisions would have been made within the Equality Act 2010.

Acas publications and services

Acas experts can visit your workplace and help you develop and implement the best policies for a range of issues associated with parents and carers, including understanding how the law relates to maternity leave.

Acas also offers practical training on issues related to Maternity, paternity and adoption, Absence, and Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010.

For free, confidential advice on employment relations issues visit Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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