Pregnancy is the condition of being pregnant or expecting a baby. Maternity refers to the period after the birth, and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context. In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, and this includes treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.

Find out more about our work on pregnancy and maternity in the workplace.

The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) states that Pregnancy and Maternity is a protected characteristic. The Act extends the protection to cover discrimination in relation to public functions, education and associations, where no such protection previously existed.

Under the Work provisions of the Act a woman is protected from being discriminated against because of pregnancy and maternity if the discriminatory treatment occurs in what is known as the ‘protected period’.

The protected period starts when a woman becomes pregnant and continues until the end of her maternity leave or until she returns to work if that is earlier.

The protected period in relation to the pregnancy can also end for a number of reasons for example when she returns to work after giving birth, if that is earlier. The other issue to remember is if the unfavourable treatment in work occurred outside of the protected period this may be considered as sex discrimination.

Example: An employer must not demote or dismiss an employee, or deny her training or promotion opportunities, because she is pregnant or on maternity leave.

Example: An employer must not take into account an employee’s period of absence due to pregnancy related illness when making a decision about her employment.

Pregnancy and Maternity is also a relevant protected characteristic under the non-work provisions of the Act, i.e. under the Services & Public Functions; Premises; Education; and Associations provisions.


  • A café owner must not ask a woman to leave his/her café because she is breast-feeding her baby.
  • A shopkeeper must not refuse to sell cigarettes to a woman because she is pregnant.
  • A school must not prevent a pupil taking an exam because she is pregnant.

(Equality and Human Rights Commission, Code of Practice)

For further information on discrimination because of Pregnancy and Maternity in both work and non-work situations click ‘Select’ above.