Many employers still live in the “dark ages” when it comes to recruiting women, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says.
In a poll for the EHRC, 36% of employers thought it reasonable to ask a women about plans to have children.
Some 59% agreed that a woman should have to disclose during the recruitment process whether she is pregnant.
The commission said the poll of 1,106 male and female decision-makers showed worrying attitudes.
The EHRC said its study showed that many employers needed more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.
EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said: “It is a depressing reality that, when it comes the rights of pregnant woman and new mothers in the workplace, we are still living in the dark ages.
“We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant.
“Yet we also know women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews.”
Other findings from the YouGov survey of small, medium and large firms included:
- 46% of employers agreed it was reasonable to ask women if they have young children during the recruitment process
- 44% agree women should work for an organisation for at least a year before deciding to have children
- About one third believe that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are “generally less interested in career progression”
- 41% of employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace puts “an unnecessary cost burden” on the workplace
- 51% agree there is sometimes resentment towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave
- The EHRC said its survey revealed antiquated beliefs, including two out of five employers saying women who have had more than one child while in the same job can be a “burden” to their team.
The EHRC’s report quotes a mother of two young children, Sarah, who was made redundant during maternity leave for her first child.
“It’s sad to think that things like this are still happening. I feel angry all the time that you can be a mother with young children and unless you’re in a job that protects you, your whole world can come tumbling down – out of your control.
“It is essential for employers to be honest and ensure there is good communication between them and those on maternity leave so that pregnant women and new mothers are given the support they deserve.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that women should not be forced to choose between having a career and a family.
“But thousands are being forced from their job every year. Pregnancy discrimination scars lives and careers.
“Employers are getting away with breaking the law on an industrial scale.”