Maternity Leave: New Mothers Lose Jobs
Up to 50,000 women cannot return to their jobs after taking maternity leave because of discrimination by employers, figures suggest.
Analysis by the House of Commons library found 14% of the 340,000 who stop work to have children every year find their positions under threat when they look to come back.
Some are not allowed to do their old job part-time and have to go into lesser roles, and others are constructively dismissed.
Those who do return to the role they performed before often struggle to get promotion, according to the figures obtained by The Independent.
Labour has highlighted the problem as it aims to make maternity rights a dividing line with the Tories ahead of the next election.
It warns that reforms requiring applicants to pay £1,200 to take a discrimination case to an employment tribunal will hit affected mothers.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper vowed Labour would crack down on employers who disobey existing laws and would investigate how to improve childcare provision.
She said: "Businesses and the economy depend on the work women do. Families depend on mums being able to spend time with their newborn.
"Yet the evidence shows that too often new mothers are let down at an incredibly important time. The scale of discrimination during maternity leave is a hidden disgrace."
A survey of 1,000 mothers by lawyers Slater & Gordon found more than a quarter did not know their rights or what they could expect from their boss.
Nearly half said they had been faced with different duties when they returned to work, and more than a quarter were not allowed to do flexible hours.
One in 20 had accepted a completely different position.
Ms Cooper said: "The growing pressure on new parents has gone on long enough ... We need national action to deal with maternity discrimination."
The coalition recently launched a consultation on proposals to give working parents a £1,200 tax break on childcare costs per child per year.
It is also introducing shared parental leave from 2015.