A pregnant employee in the organisation has 4 main legal rights:
- Paid time off for antenatal appointments
- Maternity leave
- Maternity allowance/pay
- Protection against discrimination, unfair treatment or dismissal
Time off for antenatal appointments does not include only medical appointments, but also parenting and birthing classes that they have been recommended for. It is mandatory for the employer to give time off for these antenatal appointments and pay their normal rate for that time. The partner of pregnant women also has the right to take unpaid time off work, for two of these appointments.
If the employee is off work for any pregnancy related sickness within the four weeks before due day, maternity leave and statutory maternity pay will start automatically. This situation will also nullify any other agreements made in the past.
Compulsory maternity leave
If the employee has not taken statutory maternity leave, they can take two weeks off after the baby is born.
Telling the employer about the pregnancy
It is important that the employees inform their employers about their pregnancy at least 16 weeks before the due date. If the same is not possible for any reason, the employer must be informed as soon as possible. It is also required that employees inform their employer their tentative date of starting statutory maternity leave. Unless they have informed the employer of their pregnancy, they will not be allowed to take paid time off for antenatal appointments.
Health and safety for pregnant employees
After being informed of any employee pregnancy, the employer must do a thorough risk assessment for the safety of the pregnant woman and her baby. Some common risks are caused by:
- Lifting and carrying heavy objects
- Standing or sitting for long period of times without taking breaks
- Exposure to chemicals or any toxic substances
- Long hours of working
If such risks are found, the employer must take reasonable steps to remove them by offering the employee a different role or changing the hours of their job.
If the risks cannot be completely taken care of, the employer can ask the pregnant employee to work from home if possible, or suspend them on full pay if they cannot offer a suitable alternative job.
If you are pregnant and afraid that you might be at risk, but your employer thinks otherwise, you should discuss matters with your safety representative or trade union representative.
If your work isn’t safe
There are three important steps that your employer can take to ensure your safety during pregnancy:
1. Change your working conditions
Your employer should not hesitate to change your working conditions to remove any risks. For example, getting you a comfortable chair, changing your working hours, so you do not have to travel in rush hours, letting you work from home or shifting your desk away from a place where chemicals or toxic substances are used. It is important to note that an employer cannot make a change that you do not agree to.
2. Offer you different work
If your working conditions cannot be changed, the employer should offer you a different role while you are pregnant. For example, you can be offered an office job, instead of one that involves lifting heavy boxes. The new role cannot pay you less than the original job, nor can it have less benefits.
Also, the role should be something that you are capable of. So, it is your responsibility to inform your employer immediately if you think the role is not right for you.
3. Let you stay at home
If your employer cannot remove the risks involved in your job or cannot offer you a better job, you have a right to stay at home until these risks are removed. You will continue to receive your complete salary during that time.
In the meantime, your employer cannot change details or terms of your job while you are at home, due to risks in the working environment. For example, they cannot reduce your salary or stop you from applying for a promotion.
If your employer doesn’t make sure you’re safe
If your employer refuses to give you a risk assessment, or does not take adequate measures to remove the risks, you should meet to discuss with your employer and show them any documents from your doctor stating what conditions will be safe for you to work within. If your employer refuses to take adequate measures then you can file a lawsuit against pregnancy discrimination.
If you think you have been discriminated against, you can contact the employment tribunal office in your area and check your contract terms for any extra rights you may have, over and above the minimum legal rights.