Rights when Pregnant at Work & Staying Safe in the Workplace

When you find out you are pregnant, it is an exciting time. However, you also need to understand your rights when pregnant at work. You are entitled to paid time off, and a risk assessment should be made to ensure your safety during your pregnancy.

If you are working when you fall pregnant, you need to discuss your pregnancy with your employer so that you can both make necessary arrangements for any time you wish to take off, and to make any necessary adaptations to your work whilst you are pregnant.

Your Rights When Pregnant at Work

Pregnant employees have four key rights:

  • Paid time off for ante-natal care.
  • Maternity leave of at least 26 weeks, plus an optional additional 26 weeks, totalling a one year absence (dependent on how long you have worked for your current employer).
  • Maternity pay benefits – usually Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.
  • Protection against Unfair Dismissal.

Maternity Leave Entitlement

You are entitled to 26 weeks of maternity leave no matter how long you have worked for your current employer. However if you have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks by the 15th week before the beginning of the week that your baby is due, you will also be entitled to take up to a further 26 weeks additional maternity leave if you wish to do so.

You may start your Maternity Leave any time from 11 weeks before your due date. You will still accrue holiday entitlement during this time which you may add to the beginning or end of your maternity leave.

When to Tell Your Employer You’re Pregnant

You must tell your employer you are pregnant at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week in which your baby’s due. That is once you are approximately 5 months pregnant.

However the sooner you tell them, the sooner you are able to make appropriate arrangements. Many women also prefer to tell their employer before 5 months, as it is often visibly obvious that they are pregnant before this date.

You should tell your employer when you want to start your Maternity Leave and receive Statutory Maternity Pay. If there are any health problems, or you need to take time off work for appointments, you cannot take any paid time off for ante-natal appointments before you have told work about your pregnancy. If you do take maternity leave, your employer will assume you are taking off the full amount you’re entitled to, so if you intend coming back sooner, you need to give your employer at least 28 days’ notice of your return.

Right to Time Off for Pregnancy Care

No matter how long you have worked in your current job, you are entitled to a reasonable amount of paid time off for ante-natal care. This must be at your normal rate of pay, and it is unlawful for an employer to refuse this right.

Hopefully you will have a healthy pregnancy. However even if there are no complications with your pregnancy, you will still need to attend a number of ante-natal appointments. These are usually staged as follows:

  1. First contact with healthcare professional.
  2. 16 week appointment.
  3. 18-20 week scan.
  4. 28 week appointment.
  5. 34 week appointment.
  6. 36 weeks appointment.
  7. 41 weeks appointment (if baby late).

As well as medical examinations, ante-natal care can include relaxation classes, if recommended by your doctor. Where possible, you should try to schedule appointments outside working hours or at the beginning or end of the day so you can work most of your usual hours.

Health and Safety Issues when Pregnant at Work

Your employer must carry out a Risk Assessment of your job to identify any possible risks to you and your unborn child.

These risks may be caused by:-

  • Lifting or carrying heavy loads.
  • Standing or sitting for long periods.
  • Exposure to toxic substances.
  • Long working hours.

Your employer is obliged to take reasonable steps to either remove the risk, or remove you from the risk. For example, by offering you suitable alternative work. If neither of these options are possible, your employer should suspend you from work on full pay.

If you think that you are at risk and your employer doesn’t agree, you should first talk to your health and safety representative or a trade union official. Don’t take risks with your baby’s health; if you are worried, speak to your doctor. Your doctor may be able to write a letter to your employer to confirm what is a risk to you and your baby’s health. If your employer still refuses to take action despite your concerns, you should inform the Health and Safety Executive.

Pregnancy Related Illness

If you have to take time off work due to a pregnancy related illness in the four weeks before your baby is due, your maternity leave will begin automatically. This happens regardless of any previous agreement with your employer.

Compulsory Maternity Leave

Even if you’ve decided not to take Statutory Maternity Leave, you must take off two weeks as soon as your baby is born, or four weeks if you work in a factory. This is not negotiable, and is a legal requirement under The Maternity (Compulsory Leave) Regulations 1994.

Note: This compulsory maternity leave also takes effect if a child is still-born any time after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

If an employer allows or makes you work before two weeks have passed after the birth of your child (or four weeks in the case of factory workers), they will be in breach of the 1994 Regulations, and can be fined up to £500 per offence.

Discrimination and Pregnancy

It is unlawful Gender Discrimination for employers to treat pregnant women less favourably because they’re pregnant or if they wish to take maternity leave.

Such treatment includes:-

  • Trying to reduce your hours without your permission.
  • Suddenly giving you poor staff reports.
  • Knowingly giving you unsuitable work.
  • Making you redundant because you are pregnant.
  • Treating days off sick because you are pregnant as a disciplinary issue.

If your employer changes the terms and conditions of your employment whilst you’re pregnant, without your express permission, they are in breach of contract. If your job ceases to exist whilst you are away on maternity leave, you must be offered suitable alternative employment.

Alternative employment must:-

  • Offer the same pay as your previous role.
  • Have at least as favourable working days and hours.
  • Have at least as favourable job prospects.
  • Be in a suitable alternative location (i.e. not require you to move house if you do not wish to do so).

Some new parents wish to return to work on less hours than they previously worked. If you wish to make changes to your employment, before or after Maternity or Paternity Leave, speak to your employer. They should consider any reasonable request. For example “Can I work 8:30-4:30?” or “Can I work 9-4 without a lunch break away from my desk?”.

What to do if You Have Problems when Pregnant at Work

If you feel you are being denied your rights, first speak to your employer. If you have an employee representative like a trade union official, they may be able to help with your complaint. Should you be unable to reach an agreement with your employer, you may need to complain using your employer’s internal grievance procedure. If you’re still unhappy, you may wish to take your case to an Employment Tribunal.

Your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau and the Arbitration and Conciliation Service (ACAS) both offer free, impartial advice on this. You may also be able to get assistance with legal costs; speak to your local solicitor’s office about what fee arrangements are available to you.

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