The EHRC's survey results released yesterday have indicated that many employers have outdated/unlawful attitudes to employing women. The report shows that surprisingly high numbers of employers still think it is reasonable to ask potential female recruits whether they have children or have future plans to have children. My colleague Karen Bateswho heads up the Foot Anstey employment team was recently interviewed by Radio Devon on this (1 hour 19)

Whilst asking such questions is clearly ill-advised it is not, in itself, illegal.  The issue, though, is why is the question being asked?  Whilst some employers may feel they want to know to be able to plan staffing issues, treating employees or recruits less favourably due to reasons of maternity leave and/ or pregnancy is unlawful.  Employers will be entering dangerous territory if there are not clear non-discriminatory reasons for making such enquiries. It is hard to think of many circumstances where this will be the case.

As well as the legal risks of facing sex discrimination claims and the financial liability, costs, staff engagement and PR damage that such litigation entails, from a commercial perspective businesses could also be missing out on recruiting the best talent for their business by expressing out of date views on work/ life balance and potential inflexibility.  

Shared parental leave was introduced in 2015 to enable fathers to take some leave in place of a mother. In part, a driver for this was to create a more level playing field for men and women around the issues of work, family life and future plans for children - as both genders could potentially take leave to care for children in the future.  However, take up of shared parental leave has been limited in practice and these survey result suggest that the practice of asking questions of female applicants has not kept up with legal developments.

For more information on how to manage the recruitment process effectively please contact your usual Foot Anstey contact.