The costs of hiring and training new staff, redundancy payouts and lost productivity after a woman is forced to leave amounted to £280m annually. However, women were more likely to leave their employer due to negative or possibly discriminatory experiences when they returned to work, rather than when pregnant, or on maternity leave.
About 11 per cent of women were pushed out of their jobs following maternity leave – about 54,000 women a year – but only 1 per cent of these have lodged a complaint at an employment tribunal.
The survey also found that women were most likely to be financially affected when they felt forced to leave their job at an early stage of their pregnancy, due to loss of earnings.
David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “Those who discriminate by forcing working mothers out are shooting themselves in the foot and incurring substantial costs. Today's research underlines that equality of opportunity for working mothers makes good business sense.
“The best businesses know already that ending discrimination and unlocking the talent of women in the workplace makes them stronger and more successful. We encourage all businesses to follow their lead by supporting working mothers and showing zero tolerance of discrimination.”
In a report earlier this year, the EHRC found that over three-quarters of pregnant women and new mothers – the equivalent of 390,000 women – experience negative and potentially discriminatory treatment at work each year. The research suggested that pregnancy discrimination, which is illegal, has risen significantly since 2005, when 45 per cent of women said they had experienced such treatment.
UK companies, although barred from dismissing women for child-related reasons, are able to find other reasons for doing so.
Business Minister Margot James, said: “Not only is discrimination in the workplace illegal, it makes absolutely no business sense, with a significant cost to employers and a devastating impact on the careers of new mothers and pregnant women.
“I’d like to thank the Equality and Human Rights Commission for helping to shine a light on this issue which is a key priority of mine. Together we will raise awareness to prove all discrimination is both unacceptable and costly to employers.”