POLICE Scotland is potentially discriminating against pregnant personnel and its staff redundancy drive is disproportionately affecting women, the force's civilian watchdog has been warned.
There is “an unconscious bias in relation to pregnancy and maternity” and “potential discrimination” which could give rise to employment tribunals, the Scottish Women's Development Forum (SWDF) pregnancy and maternity working group said.
SWDF found a lack of understanding and awareness by line managers, officers and staff regarding their legal obligations and responsibilities, and “out of date, inaccurate and misleading” procedures.
It has recommended revised procedures, training in pregnancy and maternity matters, consistent management, monitoring and recording and an evaluation of flexible working practices.
SWDF working group chair Clare Hussain warned the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) of potential legal implications from the current maternity practices.
“There was a perception amongst the respondents that they have been treated less favourably because of their pregnancy and subsequent maternity leave,” she said in a report to the SPA human resources and remuneration committee (HRRC).
“Experiences highlighted within the report demonstrate examples of potential discrimination and failure to act upon this research may lead to employment tribunals in the future.
“Responses during the study indicate that there is potential discrimination taking place and measures to address the findings should be considered and implemented to ensure the organisation is meeting its legal obligations.”
She warned Police Scotland to be prepared for negative “media interest and attention”.
“Whilst the findings are not entirely positive, the actions Police Scotland and the SPA take to address them will help mitigate against any potential criticism or risk,” she said.
Complying with the SWDF recommendations could have “a positive impact on recruitment and retention rates of female officers across a diverse range of communities”.
A separate report has warned Police Scotland's staff redundancy drive could have an adverse impact on women, younger workers and people from remote communities.
More than two-thirds of voluntary redundancy requests from police staff have come from women, younger leavers will not have a regular pension to fall back on and those from remote communities may struggle to find other work, the SPA heard.
Police Scotland is inviting applications for voluntary redundancy and early retirement (VR/VER) to meet a £25 million budget shortfall this year, with a view to making £1 billion of savings in the long-term.
It is preparing for a backlash from some staff and unions, and also “negative publicity” as a result of the ongoing redundancy drive, Police Scotland director of people and development John Gillies told the SPA HRRC.
Mr Gillies said: “The profile of leavers suggests a higher proportion of female staff exiting the organisation.
“The ratio of female to male members of staff is circa 70:30. This will continue to be monitored.
“Of the 1,204 VR/VER applications that have been reviewed, 838 (70 per cent) were from female applicants and 366 (30 per cent) were from male applicants.
“668 (56 per cent) were VR indicating that the majority of applicants were under 50-55 years of age and the remaining 536 applicants (44 per cent) came under the VER category.”
He added: “Early retirement releases may have less negative impact as individuals continue to have a reduced but regular income.
“Voluntary redundancy releases in areas of high employment may have less impact in communities as individuals can find alternative work.
“However, in communities where there are less employment opportunities there is always a risk that individuals who chose VR on the basis of finding alternative employment may struggle to do so.”
Police Scotland is working to “mitigate any potential implications by offering an alternative route to employees wishing to stay within the service” through redeployment, he said.
Mr Gillies added: “The service continues with business continuity planning to reduce the risk of any negative reputational impacts of VR/VER release.
“However, individual members of staff or the trade unions may disagree with some of the VR/VER savings that the service is, or will be willing, to progress.
“There therefore remains a risk of negative publicity over VR/VER release. The service continues to communicate with trade unions and staff to mitigate this risk.”
Drew Smith, from Unison Scotland police branch, said: “Unison has said for some time that Police Scotland are discriminating against women.
“70 per cent of police officers are men while 62% of police support staff are women.
“Police officers have been protected while police staff are taking the brunt of the £1.1 billion cuts which are currently going through.
“We need to end the politically-set target of maintaining 17,234 police officers and end the £1.1 billion cuts to the police budget.
“Unison is calling on the new Chief Police Constable Phil Gormley and the new chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Andrew Flanagan to review cuts to Unison members working in support roles.
“The previous SPA chair gave an undertaking this review would take place but it has never happened.”