The rights pregnant women have in the workplace don’t always seem 100% clear.
It can be a bit of a minefield: there’s a lot to know about your maternity leave rights, and the standard maternity leave pay you’re entitled to. Don’t even get us started on everything there is to deal with when you’re going back to work once you’ve had your baby.
So, let’s start at the beginning.
What rights do you have before your maternity leave begins? And when should you let your boss know you’re expecting?
Here’s what you need to know about your pregnancy rights at work, before you head off to have your baby…
When should I tell my employer I’m pregnant?
You have to inform your employer that you are pregnant by week 25 of your pregnancy, so 15 weeks before your due date.
If you don’t discover you’re pregnant until after the 25-week mark, then you need to tell your employer as soon as you find out.
However, you may choose to inform your employer sooner, particularly if you’re worried your bump is showing or you’ve missed work because of pregnancy-related illness.
“I would always advise women to tell their employers after they have had their 12-week scan,” says Joanna Robson, lawyer at Babylaw Solicitors.
“This is because upon such notification, you are protected from risks in the workplace and your employer will be obliged to carry out a risk assessment to identify and eliminate risks to you and your baby from your working environment.
“This may include removing heavy lifting tasks or, even in some cases, night shift working. If your employer doesn’t know you are pregnant, it becomes more difficult to eliminate risks at an early and crucial stage of your pregnancy.”
How should I tell my employer I’m pregnant?
You should notify your employer about your pregnancy in person.
However, you also need to let them know that you’re pregnant in writing by the end of the 25th week of your pregnancy if you wish to take maternity leave and receive statutory maternity pay (SMP), says the NCT.
The letter you send should state the date you wish to start your leave and receive pay.
You also need to prove your pregnancy in order to claim SMP (as if your bump’s not enough ?). You can do this with your Mat B1 form, which will be given to you at your 20-week scan, if not a few weeks before.
Is it true I can take paid time off for antenatal appointments?
“You are entitled to paid time off for all antenatal appointments and scans – you don’t have to take annual leave to attend appointments,” says Joanna.
“You may also be entitled to paid time off to attend other classes, such as yoga or specialist pregnancy classes, provided that your GP and midwife confirms that it would be in the best interests of the health of you and your unborn child.”
Your paid time off for antenatal classes also includes travel/waiting time, says Maternity Action‘s senior legal officer Katie Wood.
“You should try to minimise disruption at work but you may have little control over the day or time of your appointments,” she explains.
“Your employer cannot ask you to take annual leave or to do extra work to make up for your time off.”
Can I take paid time off to do extra, non-essential pregnancy classes?
Not really, no. It has to be classes recommended by the medical professionals looking after you. As Katie explains:
“The right to paid time off covers antenatal care that is recommended by your medical practitioners such as your midwife or GP.
“This will usually include your normal appointments with your midwife and scans but could also include classes if your midwife recommends it as part of your antenatal care.”
Can I take sick leave if the pregnancy makes me ill?
The bad news is that you’re feeling sick, but the good news is that you are entitled to be off for sickness, just like any other employee at the business.
“It depends on your employer’s normal sick pay policy,” explains Katie. “If your employer usually pays full sick pay, you would be entitled to receive that as normal. You should check your staff handbook or contract, if you have one.
“If not, your employer should follow their normal custom and practice. If your employer does not normally pay full sick pay you would be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay if you meet the qualifying conditions.”
However, there are a few things to keep in mind:
“If you are on Statutory Sick Pay in approximately weeks 18 to 26 of your pregnancy this can affect your right to Statutory Maternity Pay and you should get advice,” Katie adds.
“Your employer should count pregnancy-related sickness absence separately from other sickness e.g. a cold or flu. Pregnancy-related sickness absence should not be used to disadvantage you, for example in redundancy or disciplinary proceedings.”
Am I entitled to work from home if I’m sick during my pregnancy?
You’re certainly allowed to ask, says Katie, especially if your sickness is made worse by something to do with your working conditions.
“If you work near strong smells [that make you feel nauseous], for example, you should notify your employer of your pregnancy in writing and ask your employer to take action to protect your health and safety.
“If your working conditions are making your pregnancy sickness worse your employer should make reasonable adjustments to your work, such as allowing you to work from home.
“If it is not possible to remove the risks by making reasonable adjustments your employer should offer you suitable alternative work and, as a last resort, suspend you on full pay.
Can I refuse to do heavy lifting at work?
When you tell your employer you’re expecting, they have to carry out a risk assessment to determine if anything might be dangerous for you – so they can eliminate the risk factor.
This includes things like heavy lifting.
“If you are in a high risk working environment, it is best to tell your employer of your pregnancy sooner rather than later so that any risks can be eliminated from your working day,” explains Joanna.
“Tasks, like heavy or moderate lifting, should be removed from your routine and you should be assigned light tasks instead.
“If this is not possible, your employer should agree to suspend you on full pay in certain circumstances where the work-related risks cannot be eliminated.”
What are my rights around doing shifts when I’m pregnant?
“Generally speaking, a risk assessment should declare that night working is riskier than day shifts,” Joanna adds.
“This is because there are often less staff available to support a pregnant employee during a night shift compared to day shifts, when support is more readily available.
“The test of whether night work should be eliminated as part of a pregnancy risk assessment depends on what type of work you are undertaking and the level of support available.”