I can’t afford for an employee to take maternity leave, so I don’t want to employ young women. How can I avoid it?

I need to recruit, but I’m really afraid to advertise a role as I don’t want to hire a woman that may become pregnant. I don’t want the expense of maternity leave, arranging cover, absence whilst she’s pregnant and having to accommodate part-time working after maternity leave.

 

This is a common concern, particularly with smaller employers, but deselecting an applicant because she is a woman or pregnant is direct discrimination. It is possible to receive an Employment Tribunal claim from someone that is not even an employee if they believe they have been discriminated against in the recruitment process.

For any open recruitment process where you need to make selection and deselection decisions, your decision-making needs to be justified. If a female candidate is deselected at any stage, e.g. when shortlisting or after interview, and there is no justifiable reason for it, e.g. lesser qualifications, less relevant experience, it may be hard to defend a discrimination claim.

If your best candidate is a woman, yes there is a possibility that she may become pregnant, have a baby and take time off work. But, there is also a possibility that she may not. If you want to take your chance with discrimination, you will also be denying yourself the more productive and more profitable employee.

Even if she did become pregnant, your business will still benefit from the qualities that made her the ideal candidate on appointment during her pregnancy and on her return – it is highly likely that it is worth taking that risk. It is really difficult finding an employee with the knowledge, skills and attributes that your business needs. If you have found them, surely you want to attract and retain them. The second best male candidate may not be fully competent, resulting in costs to the business in the form of reduced productivity, training and capability procedures.

As there is currently provision for Additional Paternity Leave and, from April 2015, Shared Parental Leave, there is more and more scope for fathers to take a long period of leave. If you appoint a man that is to become a father, you still have the risk of them taking extended leave.

If you do not appoint a woman, this may damage your business reputation. Reputation will certainly be damaged if you end up at an Employment Tribunal – which is a public court and likely to be reported in your local press. Even if the case is settled in advance, your reputation as an employer will be discussed locally, and with the viral characteristics of social media and technological communication, it could reach a much wider audience, including your clients.

Your clients may also be impacted if you have a very male workforce. If you have little or no female diversity, this may be reflected in your product/service delivery and if clients’ needs are not being met, they will seek out a competitor that does meet their needs.

So, aside from the obvious legal compliance, there is a clear and definite business case for selecting all applicants on merit.

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