By Claire West

As many as 42% of working women in the UK are uneasy about their employer’s reaction when they tell them they are pregnant, according to a survey by OnePoll commissioned by QualitySolicitors.

Even more women are unclear about their maternity rights, with 78% of women not asking about their company’s maternity policy having accepted a job.

Furthermore, the results from the survey show that concerns around broaching the subject of motherhood in the workplace mean that only half of all women in the UK ask about their maternity rights within the first year of employment in a company, suggesting a need for companies to make their maternity / paternity policy more openly available to employees.

In response to the findings, QualitySolicitors employment lawyers have written Guides aimed at both employers and employees, setting out in clear, jargon-free language their respective rights and responsibilities around maternity / paternity leave.

The Guides will contain current and relevant information regarding rights and responsibilities in the workplace, helping both employers and employees alike to see clearly, by cutting through any legal jargon, what is legally required of them and what they are entitled to in their respective positions regarding maternity / paternity leave.

Currently, perhaps due to worries that enquiries about maternity policy will have implications for their career, the survey reveals that two thirds of working women in the UK would like for their employer to be more transparent about their maternity policy from the outset.

As Craig Holt, founder of QualitySolicitors explains, “In today’s economic climate, women are understandably concerned about job security. Despite strong legal regulation to assist the employer and employee, a culture of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has been allowed to develop. Women are not asking about their rights, and employers are not always communicating clearly what these rights are and where they can find them.”

Driven in part by the recession, women clearly feel the need to establish their job security and career before broaching the subject of maternity rights with their employer. As such, for 50% of working women surveyed, the maternity package offered by an employer would not affect their decision to accept a new job.

The results go some way to explain the national trend which has seen women waiting longer to start their families. The average age at which a woman in the UK starts a family has reached 31 years — an increase of almost two years since 1995 according to the Office of National Statistics. UK women are now waiting longer than anywhere else in the world to have their first child.

Finally, even though 71% of those surveyed believe sharing maternity/paternity leave between parents is a good idea, 40% were unaware they could actually do this - demonstrating that the Government’s initiative is not being sufficiently communicated to the public — while almost half (46%) of women think their employer could do more to support those on maternity / paternity leave.