Coronavirus crisis no excuse for discrimination in workplace – leader comment

Survey finding one in four women who were either pregnant or on maternity leave were treated unfairly – for example by being singled out for redundancy of furlough – is shocking and unacceptable.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said employers were putting women's lives and the health of their unborn babies at risk (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

It is often said that a crisis brings out the best in some people, the worst in others. It is a time when we can learn a lot about ourselves and the people we know, with friendships and loyalties both forged and broken.

The coronavirus outbreak was one such crisis that brought out the best in NHS staff and others who put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others.

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A main plank of the response to the virus, the lockdown, saved the lives of 470,000 people in the UK, according to a recent scientific paper in the leading journal Nature, but it also created a serious crisis in our economy. Many employers and staff have risen to this challenge but, regrettably, it appears that some have allowed it to adversely affect their judgment.

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Discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace has no place in modern society. And yet, according to a new survey of 3,400 women who were either pregnant or on maternity leave during the pandemic, one in four reported being treated unfairly, for example by being singled out for redundancy or furlough. The TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady claimed employers were “routinely flouting health and safety law... [putting] women’s lives, and the health of their unborn babies, at risk”.

It is clear that many companies are facing extremely challenging conditions but this is no excuse to start abandoning fundamental moral values that have become universally accepted among all decent-minded people.

The main reason is because it is unjust and simply wrong to treat the women involved in this way. As a society, we should be working towards ending such out-dated attitudes and prejudices, not reverting back to them, so that women are no longer penalised in the workplace because they give birth to the next generation and that the pay gap is closed.

It is also in the cold, hard, economic interest of any company to make sure they employ the most capable staff. Mistreating and/or excluding a large section of the population is a serious mistake.

But morality is not about self-interest. It’s about doing the right thing, for its own sake, however bad a crisis we face.

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