Understanding your rights in the workplace

Pic from Pixabay

Women’s rights have come an awful long way since the days of petitioning for abortion rights in the 1970s. These were the biggest strides the feminist movement had made to that point, and they have continued to go from strength to strength ever since. In this day and age, it is hard to envisage a time when women’s rate of pay were legally less than men’s. Or when banks would refuse to grant loans or credit on the grounds of gender. But it happened.

And while great strides have been made, there’s just as long a way to go as there was back then. It is still, by and large, a male-dominated world. If you’re going to bravely take the plunge into this territory, it’s important to know where you stand on a multitude of issues. It’s vital that you understand your rights at work, and I hope that this clears any issues up for you.


Women are naturally designed to bear children. Society is still in love with the concept of women staying at home to raise their kids while Daddy puts food on the table. And yet, when the time comes to leave work to bend to these conditions, the lines begin to get blurred. Suddenly, the idea of paying you a statutory rate to take time off becomes unbearable.

Luckily, the law has now made it an obligation for employers to take this into consideration. Women are entitled to take paid leave or time off for antenatal classes. Crucially, their standard employment rights are also protected while on leave. This includes eligibility for pay rises and holidays. Statutory maternity leave comprises of 52 weeks, and no, your employer cannot terminate you for taking this time off. You are also protected against premature labour. Your maternity leave will automatically begin the day after birth.

During maternity, some mums lose a sense of their identity. Raising a child can be tough work. That’s why it’s important to keep busy on the rare moments you get to yourself. When the baby is sleeping, you may want to try your hand at something new. If you have no outlet for your creativity, you can begin to climb the walls. Whether that’s starting a blog or selling handcrafted jewellery on eBay, it helps keep your brain active and engaged.

I previously wrote an article about self-employment during your maternity period. The good news is that your self-employed earnings will not affect your right to claiming statutory maternity pay. However, government funded maternity allowance affects your ability to work.  Read the full article for more details on self-employment during maternity.

Physical Ability

Generally speaking, women are seen as the physically weaker of the two sexes. As I’m sure Ronda Rousey will attest to, that is not necessarily the case. Particularly in the law enforcement sector, ‘physical ability‘ tests have been introduced. These tests are to determine whether a candidate is suitable for the job.

These tests are often based around speed, strength and endurance. They measure a person’s ability to carry out the physical demands of a particular job. There have been some complaints that these tests were designed to categorically rule women out of job applications. However, a law is in place that stipulates the skills tested must be proven relevant to the job. If the test fails to meet this criteria, it is illegal. This means that if you are physically able to do a job, your application must be considered.

Wage Gap

By law, a person’s ability to perform a particular job should determine salary, regardless of gender. If both a man and a woman are qualified and experienced to the same degree for a position, they are entitled to the same rate of pay. However, in a culture that often encourages women into a particular career direction, this isn’t always the case. “Women’s work” is often misrepresented in terms of salary.

For more gender neutral careers, though, women are entitled to the same rate of pay as men. If you suspect that you may be being underpaid as a result of gender, speak to your employer or the Citizens Advice Bureau. They will be able to advise you on what course of action you can take.

It is currently illegal for employers to discriminate candidates based on gender, race or disability. This means that you’re well within your rights to apply for jobs you are qualified for, and cannot be turned down because of your gender. If you suspect that you may have been the victim of discrimination, seek legal advice immediately. You may be entitled to compensation. At the very least, it’s important to make sure employers are abiding by the law.


Sexual Harassment

It’s a touchy subject. Sexual harassment is illegal, wherever it occurs. In the workplace, however, it can be difficult to understand your rights. I attended a few Peninsula employment law seminars earlier this year, and the subject came up. I found that some women fear speaking out against inappropriate actions or comments will be perceived as ‘difficult to work with.’ Those fears are completely unfounded; I assure you.

Nobody should have to endure sexual harassment. If you are currently experiencing it, it’s important to take action immediately. In minor cases, sometimes it can be worked out as a misunderstanding. Contacting the head of Human Resources is a necessary first step to finding a solution. In more severe cases, disciplinary action may be taken.

Your place of work has to take your complaints seriously by law. If you feel as though you are being misrepresented, reach out to the Citizens Advice Bureau. They can give you advice on how to deal with unsatisfactory behaviour at work.

If you experienced any of the above, let us know in the comments below. I’d love to hear more about how situations were resolved. If you have any further questions or queries about your rights in different situations, feel free to ask too. It might just inspire a future blog post!

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