How does the EU protect women’s rights?

There is not a simple causal relationship between EU action and women’s rights in the UK – there has been a developing dialogue between the two.

The EU has created a number of pieces of legislation on women’s rights, requiring equal treatment in the workplace, and in the supply of goods and services.

The Pregnant Workers Directive also provides for the rights including paid time off for antenatal appointments, the prohibition of dismissal on the ground of pregnancy, and the right to health and safety assessments for pregnant and breastfeeding workers.

However, most such rights exist in domestic legislation, and several UK provisions pre-date the EU instruments.

But EU law provides an extra layer of protection where the national interpretation of pregnancy/maternity rights is in question – the point can be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union. For example, it was the CJEU that: established that a pregnant worker need not compare her situation to that of a sick man to demonstrate discrimination; found that the prohibition on dismissal on the ground of pregnancy included dismissal from fixed term work, including where the work was to cover maternity leave; and found that women should not lose their annual leave when on maternity leave.

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