New mothers are increasingly facing discrimination at work when they take maternity leave, including their hours being reduced and being made redundant.

Research by Citizens Advice has revealed a 50% increase in the number of maternity leave issues being brought to them face-to-face in the last two years.

The study also found a 100% increase in online visits to pregnancy discrimination advice pages in the past year.

Last year, 2000 women sought after advice for issues relating to pregnancy and maternity.

Citizens Advice said there were four common reported problems, including being made redundant, having hours reduced, lacking health and safety protections and having roles changed upon the return to work.

The research supports a study from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which found that three in four mothers (77%), the equivalent of 360,000 women, have faced negativity or discriminatory experiences before, during or after their maternity leave.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Employers have a duty to look after employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave.

“Pregnant women and mums who have just had a baby are protected by a whole range of rights at work. But in a growing number of cases employers aren’t playing by the rules and women are losing out.

“In some cases women are having their hours cut or even being moved onto zero hours’ contracts when they tell their employers they are pregnant. This can have a real impact on their income security as suddenly they don't know what hours they will work or how they will be paid - the last thing they want when they are expecting a child”.

Pregnant employers have the legal right to take time of work when they give birth and are protected from discrimination by law, including losing their job and having their hours or responsibility reduced. This is to give children a better start in life, promote equality in the labour market and boost staff retention, said Citizens Advice.

The EHRC research found that 11% of mothers felt they had been forced to leave their jobs as a result of being pregnant. Some mothers also experienced their hours being cut to zero hour contracts when they did not want fewer hours.

Mr. Guy commented: “Maternity protections are part of people’s employment rights but responsibility for enforcing these is poorly resourced and spread across a wide range of agencies, from HMRC to the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. This confusing landscape means some bad bosses are getting away with treating their employees unfairly.

“There is an opportunity for the government to consider bringing together the expertise of all current labour market enforcement functions into one well-resourced effective body to investigate bad practice. This will make it much easier for people to seek redress if they are being denied any of their employment rights”.