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.

All of these rights are protected, even if you get pregnant during a probation period at work.


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.

Your pregnancy rights are protected in the sad event of a loss. If you need time off for a miscarriage, it must be recorded as a pregnancy sickness. This means you can’t be discriminated against for taking sick leave.


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.

Further Reading

  • Fertility Leave – our guide looks at getting time off for IVF treatment, and when pregnancy rights kick in during the process.

30 thoughts on “Rights when Pregnant at Work & Staying Safe in the Workplace

  1. Gee says:

    I work in engineering on a power generation site that uses landfill gas I’ve told my employer I’m pregnant and they have not assessed me and they are expecting me to do a 2 person job on my own how do I find out what is acceptable work in this field as I deal with oils and coolants and other chemicals and gases

  2. Jane says:

    My daughter is 24 weeks pregnant and works as an estate agent, she out and about everyday day doing viewings, valuation and property take ons. She works alone and really worried she will have a fall or bump. I don’t think she’s had a risk Assessment either. She won’t say anything to her work as she worried that they’ll think she moaning. Where does she stand?

  3. L says:

    Hi. I’m 11 weeks pregnant and I work at Tesco. I’m worried that I’m working to much and stressing myself out. What do you think I should do?

  4. Danielle says:

    I am 17 weeks pregnant and work in a very busy hot warehouse (like 100 degrees most days) I am really trying to go on short term disability. It’s way to much for me right now going on my 5th month pregnant , most days I come home completely exhausted and cramping from exhaustion. What all does my doc have to do too get me on short term disability? And is it possible ?

  5. Bhimby says:

    I am 14 weeks pregnant and am working at old age…other staff went to isolation for 14 days ,since they are the suspect of covid-19. So am only staff left ,Is a pregnant woman allowed to work 12hours a day for 14 days without a rest. I am worried about my pregnancy.

  6. Sam says:

    Hi I just found out am 6 weeks pregnant. I work in a carer home ,when should I tell my boss am pregnant. I want to tell my boss now or should I wait .I have 2 children already this baby will be my third I have not had any miscarriages in my life.

  7. Gilly says:

    My daughter in law is 15 weeks pregnant and works in a care home. I am concerned that she should still be expected to work in this environment due to the current coronovirus pandemic. Any thoughts would be gratefully appreciated. Thank you.

  8. L says:

    My sister is 4 weeks pregnant and works in a children secure unit, a risk assessment has been completed however I have been made aware that my sister had been placed in several vulnerable situations involving violence. She has also been informed that shielding does not apply to her during COVID19. Can you please provide some advice. Thanks

  9. Na says:

    Hi I am 7 weeks pregnant, I work in the public as a cleaner and would be in close contact with costumers. I am looking for advice as to what I should do I haven’t told my employer yet and don’t even know if I should be in work. Any help would be great thanks.

  10. Anon says:

    To “Handbag” 13 April @ 3.58pm – Pregnant ladies are classed as potentially ‘at risk’ from a severe impact from covid-19 as per government guidance and thus should be staying at home (or ‘shielded’) and therefore not going to work. I would suggest returning to doctor to insist on another sick note for mental health of she feels not fully recovered; if not, the GP/NHS are duty bound to provide a sick note for ‘shielding ‘ so SSP can be claimed. If her own doctor is being difficult, you are entitled to speak with another doctor at the practice for review. Hope it all works out. Take care.

  11. Handbag says:

    My daughter is 30 weeks pregnant she has been off work with stress her sick note has finished and the doctor will not renew it as he’s says she’s ok to go back x she works for a mental health unit and doesn’t feel safe with what’s going on she has 4 weeks annual leave to take which she has requested but the manager has refused so she was going to have 4 weeks annual leave then start her maternity leave x what are her rights pls

  12. Katie says:

    Hi, I am currently 25 weeks pregnant and work for a senior living facility. They have known about my constant back pain and issues with standing for too long. Without getting my 10 minute breaks during my shift. I was just put on suspension 2 days ago due to lifting a resident that has been known to be told to the management as a 2 person help. I was alone with this resident and the resident was unable to support herself halfway through transferring. I told management that I was unable to do so alone. I was treated poorly when asking for help. Got questioned about why I needed help and other sorts. I did not recieve any help unless I asked multiple times and the residents call light was going off for some time. I ended up in a lot of pain to which they didnt do anything about until I was late coming back from lunch due to being unable to get up and walk. My whole left side is now swollen and i am in lots of pain. First they told me to work at my own pace……FINALLY and then not 5 minutes later was put on suspension and told to go home until further notice. What steps do I take now in order to still get paid by my employer?

  13. Amie says:

    Hi, I am the manager of a coffee shop within a garden centre and am 27 weeks pregnant. I’m workplace is a very busy a stressful place to work for a start. It took my employer around two months to get my risk assessment done! I am currently signed off work by doctor for stress at work. My regional manager has just sent out new rotas for the week I am due to return to work and has put me on 8 days straight with majority of those days only having me and two other staff members on when there should be five! The two I am on with are 16 year old girls meant for serving on the counter and running the food to tables. I should have a cook and kitchen assistant on also. I have no kitchen staff on which means I am expected to run the kitchen by myself! We do not get a break I am not exaggerating when I say I’ve no time to pee or have a drink of water. I have been referred to physio due to body pains. I was signed off for stress at work as they had me working understaffed and 8-12 sometimes even 14 days in a row knowing I’m pregnant and knowing the work I am going to be forced to do as no one is there to help. I have broke down and had to go outside to cool off so many times now and am dreading going back knowing that nothing has changed!! What should I do? Thanks in advance. Amie.

  14. Nicky says:

    I am 33 weeks pregnant and work in industrial engineering as a cutter. I have been put on light duty since I notified my boss of my pregnancey however I would like to know when the best time would be for me to take my leave as I don’t wanna go into labour at work. I’m already getting braxton hicks as well and my feel and back are killing me

  15. Jake says:

    My daughter is 18 weeks pregnant and should have had a health and safety Assesment she has had part of one done and not finished .She is a carer in a nursing home working 13 hour shifts sometimes 3 days in a row she has spoken to management on a few occasions and got no where what is her next move .

  16. Sasha says:

    I’m 29 weeks My dr , clearly does not understand that my job is tiring and weighing my body down I’m on my feet for 8 hrs back be hurting feet be swelling she told me to bring my leave papers My next appointment so she can look over them but she’s not garunteed that she’s gonna signe them what should I do if she don’t sign them, I’m not eligible for maternity leave but I’m eligible for .. short term disability with pay and it’s up to 26 weeks !! Help me

  17. Rach says:

    I am 8 weeks pregnant, working permanent night shift, 33hrs a week, I’m a care assistant, I am currently suffering with hg (severe sickness) my manager is aware that I’m pregnant, I’m wanting to ask her if I can move to days for shorter working hours because I feel sick majority of the day, do you think this could be possible??

  18. Billy says:

    Hi I am working 18 hours a week, At a day care nursery.each day I work 6 hours with no break. Since I’m in early pregnancy am I entitled to a short break? Thanks

  19. Vicky says:

    I’m 29 weeks pregnant and have submitted to my employer notice to leave on maternity at 36weeks of pregnancy. I’m working in very busy restaurant as GM. My maternity cover was arranged already (starts next week) and my boss wants to send me to finish my last 7 weeks in different restaurant, which faces a huge issues: management shortages due to holidays and sickness. I feel it will be very stressful, and I’m not willing to accept it. What is my rights? Thank you.

  20. Meg says:

    Hi I’m only 5 weeks along but im a cna. I lift men and woman daily plus boost people constantly. I know I’m very early along I do have a drs appointment but it’s not for another couple of weeks. I just started my job so I’m not planning on telling my boss until I’m about 15 weeks. My whole issue though is the lifting.

  21. Hatty says:

    Hi I’m a psychiatric nurse I’m 14 weeks pregnant and i currently work in secure unit my boss has rostered me as part of the numbers and some of my shifts I am the only nurse. I am now not sleeping due to the worry of being in a violent and aggressive situation at work and being part of the numbers I know that my colleagues will come to resent me due to staffing issues and being counted in the numbers, I feel unsupported as this is considered normal pregnant mothers to be put in to these situations.

  22. Lisa says:

    Hello am 23 weeks pregnant, am working in a prison as a head chef in kitchen feed 1220 , am in charge of 30 prisoners working 12 hr shifts, with half hour breaks, am extremely tired don’t sleep I get get at least 4 hrs sleep if that, what are my rights?? I feel worried working with prisoners, as they can can get very angry sometimes, my manger says just walk away from the situation, also I feel I should not be working with prisoners, my manager told me it’s fine and that they it’s safe.. please help

  23. Eliza_Dock says:

    Hello, I am a carer and I currently work 2 X 12 hour shifts a week and 1 X 6 hour shift! How often should I be taking breaks, and also what things shouldn’t I be doing in an elderly care setting? It’s getting very difficult for me at the moment as I am absolutely knackered and really struggling, I go home in agony. Then other members of staff start complaining too and about me saying how I’m being ‘lazy’ and that how I still need to do what was asked of me before and then the manager tells me how I’m ‘pregnant not ill’ so there is no reason for me to work any differently!!! Please give me some answers, thankyou!

  24. Beki says:

    Hiya I am 18 weeks pregnant, I am doing three 12 hour shifts. I’ll be had a few complications with my pregnancy so far. Which I don’t think working long hours is helping. Could I ask my employer if it’s possible that I can do 5 short shifts?

  25. Georgiana2310 says:

    I’m 19 weeks pregnant, i’m working in the night shift 12 hours, 4 days on and 4 days off. I’m working only in my feet, i work between 7 p.m-7 a.m. First breack (30 min) is 00.00 a.m and second breack (30 min) is 4.00 a.m. The problem is that my feet kill me, i need to sit, i need to eat. First breack is after 5 hours. I feel pain in all my body! What can i do? My manager said me no chair, no extrabreack and he want target. He stress me all time about target but i feel that i can’t work more in my feet only!!!

  26. Bexsi89 says:

    I’m 21 weeks pregnant and a chef. The heat during this summer is too much. I am already underpaid on salary. I asked if possibly I could have a night off to rest (currently doing 60hours a week) I was declined. So now I’m on a mission to make sure I can milk everything put of this. I am bitter but if never asked for anything while working there but temps are reaching 37° in the kitchen and I’m seriously too hot. I want to know exactly what I entitled to. Even my scans I’m having to have as my days off. Please can you help me k ow what I can and can’t do so im full of facts.

  27. loulou says:

    hi im 21 wks pregnant and I work as a chef in a kitchen shifts from 6am till 4pm or 10am till 8pm we’re we cant open windows or doors we also have ben told that we have 2 were are full uniform regardless of weather all we have Is 1 fan which dosent do nothing what could i do as I’m really starting 2 struggle with the heat

  28. Kt19 says:

    Hi I’m 23 weeks preganant and a professional dog walker walking up to 6 dogs at a time. I’ve just been told I’ve got SPD my employer has told me he can only pay me sick pay as from now this is a big drop in my pay. I’ve asked to go on lighter walks ie smaller dogs if this doesn’t help can I then ask to be suspended till my 29th week when I get maternity? X

  29. Dannah says:

    Hey I’m 10w3d pregnant and I work at a livestock we’re it involves long period in the heat and running and working with large animals that can be aggressive such as cows and bulls but there is other things I can do such as work inside the office well my employer has told me I need to go on maternity leave is this ok??? Or should she be trying to find something else I can do ?

  30. Marie says:

    Hi I work in a busy retail shop and just found out I am pregnant I will have to do lighter duties at work but don’t want to change my hours can I be forced to by my employer thank you.

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