Pregnant employee at work

Pregnancy rights at work

It is common knowledge that once your employer is aware you are pregnant, various protections and additional rights will kick in. However, if you asked a number of people to confirm these additional protections/rights it is unlikely they would be able to go into detail. So, this article has been written as a means of clarifying your pregnancy rights at work.

For the record, your rights as a pregnant lady at work are different to your rights as a pregnant lady on maternity leave. This is something which many people fail to appreciate.

Basic rights while on maternity leave

Before we take a look at your rights while pregnant in the workplace, below we have listed your basic rights while on maternity leave:-

  • You may be entitled to statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance or contractual maternity pay
  • You are still entitled to benefit from pay reviews
  • Sick pay is not (normally) an option while you are on maternity leave
  • Employer pension contributions will continue as normal while on maternity leave
  • You should still be considered for bonuses as if you were back at work
  • Your holiday entitlement will continue to increase even on maternity leave
  • Contact from your employer should be minimal unless specifically arranged
  • Your employer is still obliged to let you know of changes in the workplace which affect you

This list is by no means exclusive but it does give you an idea of your basic rights while you are on maternity leave.

Right to maternity pay and maternity leave

There is a general assumption that eligibility for maternity leave automatically means eligibility for maternity pay. This is not necessarily the case. However, if you are eligible for maternity leave you can take up to 12 months off work, covering a period prior to and after the birth of your child. The basic criteria for eligibility to receive statutory maternity pay are as follows:-

  • You are still in employment during the 15th week before your due date
  • Prior to the 15th week before your due date, you have at least 26 weeks of service with your employer
  • Your average gross pay is at least £120 a week

As you will see from our additional content pages, we have covered the subject of eligibility in more detail in a separate article.

Antenatal appointments

Any antenatal appointments recommended by your doctor, nurse or midwife is classed as paid time away from work. These appointments could include anything from relaxation techniques to actual medical examinations/discussions. There are no conditions associated with this time off. If you work for the company, no matter what your working hours are, you are entitled.

Other factors to take into consideration include:-

  • Agency workers are entitled to paid time for antenatal appointments if they have worked for the same company for at least 12 weeks in a row
  • Your employer cannot request/demand that you make up additional hours to cover appointments
  • On occasion your partner may also be eligible for time off for potentially one or two antenatal appointments

It is obviously important to let your employer know as soon as possible that you have future antenatal classes.

Employer’s permission to attend antenatal classes

While there is various guidance regarding obtaining the permission of your employer to attend antenatal classes, much of this is common sense. It is important to maintain a clear line of communication with your employer. This ensures that they know exactly what is going on as soon as you know.

When seeking your employer’s permission to attend antenatal classes there are specific issues to consider:-

  • Your employer is perfectly entitled to request proof of your appointment
  • On occasion, your employer can refuse permission for an appointment within working hours but they must have a reasonable reason for doing so
  • It is highly unlikely that your employer would question medical guidance and refuse permission
  • During busy periods, your employer may reasonably ask you to make such appointments outside working hours. However, they also need to appreciate this may not always be possible

In reality, the majority of employers will allow you, with no questions asked, to attended antenatal classes held within the normal working day. No employer would choose to put themselves in a position where they had refused permission for medical advice, with potentially dire consequences.

It is important to maintain a trusting relationship with your employer once you have told them you are expecting. This can save so many problems further down the line.

Employer refuses paid time off

The regulations regarding pregnancy rights at work state quite simply that if you fall pregnant while in employment, you are entitled to paid time off for antenatal classes. While very rare, some employers may refuse to pay you for time spent out of the office. If this is the case, it is highly likely that you are experiencing maternity discrimination which is illegal.

The best course of action is to remind your employer of your pregnancy rights at work as a pregnant person in employment. If need be, print off a copy of the specific regulations regarding paid leave for antenatal classes. While few disagreements progress past this stage, if your employer is still adamant that they are not going to pay you, you should take professional advice.

Working night shifts

In recent times the worldwide economy has shifted towards a 24/7 scenario. As a consequence, more and more people are now working at night time on a regular basis. While there are specific working conditions for those working at night time, the situation regarding paid leave for antenatal classes is still straightforward.

Hopefully, your doctor should be able to arrange your antenatal appointments around your sleeping patterns. If an appointment is outside of your normal working hours then you are not entitled to payment from your employer. However, if there is an overlap with your working hours then you have the same rights as somebody who works “normal hours”.

Agency workers

Historically, agency workers have had very few in the way of rights, although there has always been more protection for pregnant ladies. Whether or not you are entitled to paid time off for antenatal classes depends. You are legally allowed to take paid time off if:-

  • You have work for the same hiring company for at least 12 weeks in a row
  • Your appointment is within normal working hours

As you would expect, if you’re antenatal classes are outside of your normal working hours then you are not entitled to payment. There are also various actions that hiring companies are not allowed to take such as:-

  • Rearrange your daily schedule so that your antenatal classes are “outside” of your normal hours
  • Ask you to make up time spent out of the office at antenatal classes

As you will notice, there is now additional protection for employees who work for one particular hiring company for a prolonged period of time. It is likely there will be further changes and tightening of the regulations going forward.

Sick pay while pregnant

Depending upon the circumstances, you may well be entitled to sick pay while pregnant. However, there is a chance that sick pay could impact your level of maternity pay.

Average weekly pay

Statutory maternity pay is calculated using an average of your weekly pay during an eight week period. So, if you were ill during that time and received sick pay, this could be significantly less than your regular pay. As a consequence, it could in certain circumstances significantly reduce your statutory maternity pay.

Off work because of pregnancy related illness

If you are not able to attend work as a consequence of a pregnancy related illness there are specific consequences. If your illness occurs more than four weeks before your baby is due, you can claim statutory sick pay. Any pregnancy related illness within the four weeks prior to your due date will likely result in your maternity leave/pay being brought forward.

Non-pregnancy related illness

If your illness isn’t related to your pregnancy then you can claim sick pay as usual to either:-

  • The week in which your baby is due
  • The date that your maternity pay was going to start

As a consequence, it is very important to let your employer know whether your illness is pregnancy related or not. If you encounter any degree of discrimination as a consequence of your illness, you should take professional advice.

Health and safety in the workplace

As soon as you inform your employer that you are pregnant, they are obliged to carry out a risk assessment of your work and working practices. This is used to determine whether your current role/actions in the workplace are compatible with your pregnancy. Once your employer has carried out the assessment they are obliged to tell you if they find any issues. These may include concerns regarding:-

  • Long working hours
  • Standing/sitting for a prolonged period of time
  • Heavy lifting/carrying
  • Exposure to toxic substances

As part of the risk assessment, your employer should ask you about your pregnancy and what you believe should happen. They are obliged to take on board any advice from your doctor/midwife when reaching a conclusion to their report. It is obviously in the best interests of all parties to ensure the health of your unborn child is protected at all times.

Unsafe environments

If the risk assessment deems that your current working environment is not compatible with your pregnancy, your employer is legally obliged to take action. It matters not whether you are in full-time employment or an agency worker, although your protection can be reduced if you are a casual/zero-hours contract worker.

When your employer is quoting various regulations and conditions, it can become overpowering and difficult to understand. It may therefore be sensible to take professional advice to ensure that your position is protected at all times. So, if your working environment is deemed unsafe due to your pregnancy, various actions should be considered:-

Change in working conditions

Changes in your working conditions will focus on potential risks and their immediate removal. There are numerous options including changing to more comfortable seating, changing hours to remove stressful driving to/from work and even contemplating working from home.

It is important there is a clear line of communication between you and your employer. However, it is also worth remembering that no changes can be instigated without your agreement.

Change your role in the company

On occasion it may not be possible to change your working conditions to make them safer for your pregnancy and your unborn child. In this scenario there are still various protections available such as:-

  • Option of switching from a manual job to an office role
  • Your salary cannot be reduced
  • Your overall benefits package cannot be reduced
  • Only jobs where you have the specific skills set can be considered

You should never feel railroaded into a particular change of environment/employment role. You also have the right to discuss this with your employer and agree changes which are acceptable to all parties.

When it comes to agency workers the onus is more on the agency as opposed to the hiring company. It may be that your agency:-

  • Finds you a different role
  • Pays you for the remainder of your current hiring contract

While it is fair to say that agency workers are not yet on a par with full-time/part-time employees, there has been significant progress in recent years.

Gardening leave

There is a chance that you may be put on “gardening leave” if your current role is deemed too risky and there are no immediate alternatives. In this scenario you would literally stay at home on full pay with full working privileges.

It is important to note that even though you are not in the office, your employer is not able to change the terms and conditions of your employment. They are also legally obliged to inform you of any potential promotions and cannot block you from applying. In essence, they need to act as if you are still in the workplace.

Failure to provide a safe working environment

If your employer fails to act upon issues arising as a consequence of their risk assessment, this could be deemed pregnancy discrimination. They are legally obliged to remove any potential risks or make alternative arrangements where possible. In the past we have seen disputes regarding activities appropriate for a pregnant lady. Where possible, you should ensure that you have written evidence from your doctor/midwife explaining what you can and cannot do in the workplace.

If your employer still continues to discriminate against you, offering little in the way of assistance and alternative roles, you should take professional advice. You may have a case for pregnancy discrimination and potential compensation.

Additional contractual maternity benefits

Aside from contractual maternity pay, some employers may include a range of additional pregnancy rights at work in your employment contract. These may include private healthcare in the event of falling pregnant or even assistance with the cost of equipment required when your baby is born. You would be surprised how many employment contracts now include an array of additional benefits, many of which are focused on those who fall pregnant.

It is important to be aware that any pregnancy related benefits in your employment contract can only enhance, never reduce, your statutory maternity rights. If any such conditions were to reduce your statutory maternity rights, they are quite simply illegal and will not hold up in a court of law.

Employer’s failure to fulfil obligations

Rarely, but on occasion, some employers will fail to fulfil all of their legal obligations regarding a pregnant member of staff. You may have a case for taking further action if you can prove that your employer:-

  • Failed to uphold all of your maternity rights
  • Acted in a discriminatory manner when you enquired about your maternity pay/rights
  • Acted in a discriminatory manner when you enquired about your maternity leave

If you believe that you have suffered pregnancy discrimination from being treated differently as a consequence of your pregnancy/maternity leave, your employer may well have a case to answer. There are also specific scenarios covered in the legislation:-

Made redundant while pregnant

If your employer is forced to make redundancies, they are not allowed to take into account your pregnancy/maternity leave. Again, this could be deemed pregnancy discrimination and open your employer up to potential legal action.

Any decision regarding redundancies should be made as if you were still working on a normal basis.

Sacked while pregnant

There are been a number of unfair dismissal cases in years gone by where employers have sacked pregnant members of staff to save money. If you believe that the decision to sack you was influenced by your pregnancy, again this could be deemed maternity discrimination and prompt legal action.

Applying for new employment

Legally, there is nothing stopping you applying for a new job while on maternity leave. How this might impact any contractual maternity pay is a different matter. Depending upon the terms of your employment, your employer (previous employer?) may be able to reclaim some of the contractual maternity payments.

When applying for a new job while on maternity leave, you are not obliged to tell anyone that you are pregnant. If you are offered a job on merit, only for the offer to be removed upon finding you were pregnant, this is pregnancy discrimination. Where you believe that your application has been treated differently because they were aware you were pregnant, this could again lead to claims of pregnancy discrimination.

Protection in the workplace

As soon as you inform your employer that you are pregnant, this prompts the introduction of a range of obligations/actions. One of the main actions is the provision of a risk assessment report regarding your current working conditions and any changes required.

It is important that you are aware of your pregnancy at work rights as a pregnant employee and, just as importantly, aware of your obligations to your employer. Communication, communication, communication, this is the key to a successful pregnancy and a strong long-term working relationship with your employer.