A competitive jobs market is driving an increase in the number of maternity leave discrimination claims, employment lawyers have warned.

The news follows research claiming that 50,000 women on maternity leave did not return to work last year because of discrimination by employers.

Kiran Daurka, employment solicitor at international firm Slater & Gordon, said women on maternity leave are being disproportionately affected by the economy: ‘The percentage of women being made redundant is higher than any other group.’

She said: ‘If you look at any industry the point at which women stop being equal to men is at child-bearing age and that is because employers are not prepared to be flexible.’

Catherine Wilson, partner and employment specialist at national firm Thomas Eggar, said more disputes were arising due to increased competition for jobs.

But she said this is often due to roles changing after individuals have been away for 12 months.

‘Employers are very nervous about getting it right. Disputes often arise for more subtle reasons than it simply being a case of discrimination,’ she said.

In May this year trainee solicitor Katie Tantum won a compensation claim against city firm Travers Smith for refusing her a permanent job after she became pregnant.