Know your maternity rights

Solicitor Joanna Robson reveals all you need to know about juggling work and pregnancy. Read her step by step guide…


From picking the right moment to tell your boss you’re expecting, to having time off for appointments, being pregnant at work (especially in the early days) can be a bit of a minefield. It doesn’t matter if you’re full-time or part-time, the same rights still apply from the moment you announce the news. It’s easy when you take it step-by-step…

You need to tell your boss you’re pregnant 15 weeks before you’re due date. However, many women announce the news earlier, especially if an expanding bump or morning sickness give away the news.

Step 1 – Telling the boss

You’re probably convinced everyone knows, but until you announce it, as far as the office is concerned, you’re not pregnant. A lot of women tend to leave their official work announcement until after they’ve had their 12-week scan, and that’s fine, as actually, your deadline is no later than 15 weeks before your baby’s due date (that’s around week 25).

You need to put it in writing, but a nice chat to hand over the letter or email is polite. There’s also your wellbeing to consider and by telling your employer sooner rather than later, you give him or her the greatest chance to give you and your bump the best protection at work.


Step 2 – Assessing the risks

Once you’ve notified your employer in writing, he or she has what’s known as a continuing duty of care towards you. By law, employers have to make sure there’s nothing that could pose a health and safety risk to you as an expectant mum. There are guidelines (see and if you’re eligible for a risk assessment, speak to your boss about it.

“As a receptionist, I often carried post and parcels around our building,” says Sarah Layton, 24, from Cardiff, 32 weeks pregnant. “Once I announced the pregnancy, we discussed how I felt about it and as a result I requested that other people collect heavy parcels from my desk.”

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Step 3 – Time off

So now you need time off for a scan. Good news is that you’re entitled to paid time off for antenatal appointments and you shouldn’t be asked to make up the time following absence from work. Some colleagues might not share your joy and could resent you having extended time out of the office for antenatal care. Try and ignore it, but bear in mind that if that anyone starts trying to make life difficult for you, you’re entitled to file a formal grievance at work.

If you work part-time, your employer can’t insist that you arrange your antenatal appointments on your days off, but try and be flexible to make everyone’s life easier. You could also be entitled to paid time off to attend parentcraft or specialist pregnancy classes, such as yoga, provided your GP or midwife confirms it would be in the best interests of the health of you and your baby to go.


Step 4 – Dealing with discrimination

As a pregnant employee, you’re protected by law from discrimination at work. So, if you feel you’ve suddenly gone from team member of the month to having your performance questioned, or if you feel that you’re being pushed out through a sudden bad atmosphere, or you’re being reprimanded and formally disciplined for taking pregnancy-related sickness absence, you need to tackle it, as it’s discriminatory and unlawful. Bullying or intimidation by colleagues is totally unacceptable and your employer has a duty of care to protect you from such treatment.

In extreme cases you may have a case against your employer in the Employment Tribunal. If in doubt, seek legal advice. “I had a word with my boss as I felt like my supervisor was suddenly treating me differently,” says Lynne Messenge, 29, who’s 14 weeks pregnant. “He had a quiet word and from then on everything was back to normal. You don’t need any extra stresses what with being pregnant, so it’s definitely worth speaking out.”


Step 5 – Planning your leave

You’re under no obligation to say how long you’re planning to take off for maternity leave and you don’t legally have to decide when you want it to start until the fifteenth week before your due date. So in theory you can wait until week 25 of your pregnancy to say when you’re off. In the meantime, your employer should presume that you’re taking 52 weeks’ leave. At your 20-week scan, your midwife will give you a MATB1 Certificate, which legally proves you’re expecting and when you’re due. You give it to your employer and when you’re ready, discuss your leaving date.

Consider whether you’d like to add some annual leave (if you have some owing) on to the beginning of your maternity leave. You’re entitled to start maternity leave from the eleventh week before your baby’s due date. That’s week 29 of your pregnancy.

Think about the time you’d like with your baby – the later you start, the longer you’ll have. In fact, some mums give their due date as the start-date. There’s only one hitch – go into labour early, and your leave comes forward, too.


Bump + work dos and don’ts

  • DO pick the right time for a chat. Don’t tell your boss the good news, or ask for a risk assessment just after a big meeting, or when she’s on a deadline.
  • DON’T book last-minute appointments. A scan date that means everyone has to reschedule work diaries won’t make you popular and might mean rushing your appointment.
  • DO your homework. If you’re clued up, you’ll know when to correct someone if they try and get you to do things in a way you know isn’t right or safe.
  • DON’T overdo it. Remember your first priority is to your bump. If you’re put on the spot and asked to do something you think might be damaging, ask if it can be postponed or re-delegated and argue your case.
  • DO see things from the other point of view. Remember that non-pregnant colleagues will usually be doing their best to support you and accept their help when they offer.

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