Seven legal changes which have improved women’s lives at work

Jeanette Wheeler, partner at Birketts. Picture: Birketts

Jeanette Wheeler, partner at Birketts. Picture: Birketts - Credit: Birketts

Jeanette Wheeler, partner and head of employment at regional law firm Birketts, explains the landmark pieces of legislation which have changed the lives and rights of women at work:

1. The Equal Pay Act 1970: This came into being as a result of the Ford Dagenham workers strike and was a key turning point in history as it gave women the right to be paid the same as men performing the same role or roles rated as equivalent or of equal value. This is a key definition and allows women to compare the value of their typically 'female work' with those of typically 'male' occupations.

2. The Sex Discrimination Act 1796 (subsequently incorporated into Equality Act 2010): This protects men and women from discrimination on the grounds of sex or marital status and provides wide ranging protection, including from harassment and victimisation (retaliatory treatment in response to the bringing of a complaint).

3. Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000: Its introduction marked another step change in seeking to ensure that part-timers – predominantly women – are not treated less favourably in respect of their terms and conditions of employment compared to full-timers (still mostly male).

4. Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999 (key provisions of which were incorporated into Employment Rights Act 1996 as amended): The rights of pregnant workers and those on maternity leave are extremely important although sadly the evidence is still that women who have babies suffer widespread discrimination and often find themselves without a job or on a lower paid, lower status job once they return from maternity leave. However, further provisions are made in the Equality Act 2010 and Employment Rights Act.

5. Flexible Working Regulations 2014 (incorporated into Employment Rights Act 1996): The provision of a statutory right to request flexible working is a right without real teeth, but at least enshrines a legal right to ask for flexible working e.g. part time hours.

6. Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014 (alongside new provisions in the Employment Rights Act 1996): These are a fairly recent attempt by government to level the playing field and enable responsible fathers and other parents the chance to co-parent and take similar larger (potentially paid) chunks of time off on the birth or adoption of a child.

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7. Maternity and Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2014: These give all parents with child-care responsibilities the right to take up to 14 weeks of unpaid leave in week-long chunks up to a child's 18th birthday.