The UK has thorough health and safety legislation to protect new and expectant mothers in the workplace from physical and emotional risks. Pregnant employees in the workplace are susceptible to physical and emotional risks which could affect their health and the health of their child. To continue working safely, it is important for employers to maintain health and safety standards in the workplace.
As an employer or employee who is newly pregnant, you should be aware of the following legislation:
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992:
- This law focuses on an employer's responsibility to provide "suitable facilities" for new and expectant mothers in the workplace.
- Suitable facilities include a safe and private room where new mothers returning to work can express milk if they need to, and a refrigerator where they can store expressed milk until the end of the day.
- This law also establishes an employer's requirement to conduct a risk assessment. This risk assessment will prove whether the workplace needs to be reorganised to accommodate new and expectant mothers.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999:
- These regulations demand employers to establish and maintain the health and safety standards in the workplace, to protect new and expectant mothers.
- These regulations establish that an employer must make an "assessment of risk" to the health and safety of employees. Subsequently, the employer must act upon these risks to ensure they are reduced.
- A designated employee must be appointed to oversee workplace health and safety standards to ensure these are maintained and safety is upheld.
- If health and safety is not maintained in the workplace at any point, this must be reported to the UK Health and Safety Executive immediately.
The Equality Act 2010:
- This legislation replaced the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which focused on protecting female and males from discrimination in their employment, training and education.
- The Equality Act 2010 states that employers must not discriminate against new mothers returning to work from maternity leave. This refers to acts of direct discrimination and indirect discrimination.
- If an employee reports that they have been treated unfairly by their employer due to their pregnancy, the employee has the right to initiate legal action against the employer for breaching their responsibilities stated in the Equality Act 2010.
Miss G Dowokpor, an employee of London Borough of Waltham Forest, had a contract with her employer for 3 months. Miss Dowokpor informed her manager, Mr Andrews, that she had been offered an alternative job with an attractive 2-year contract. To keep Miss Dowokpor as an employee, the London Borough of Waltham Forest confirmed via email that they would offer her a 1-year contract to March 2018.
However, when Miss Dowokpor informed her employer of her pregnancy in October 2017, the treatment she received breached the Equality Act 2010, as she was subject to pregnancy discrimination. Miss Dowokpor was told in November 2018 that her contract had been terminated due to budget cuts. The employer told Miss Dowokpor that she had worked well and done a good job, but the letter which the employer sent to the Department of Work and Pensions stated the contrary, that Miss Dowokpor's contract had been terminated due to bad performance. Therefore, when this case went to hearing, it was concluded that Miss Dowokpor had been subject to pregnancy discrimination and she was compensated £11.9k for agency fees and £12.5k for injury to feelings.
Those employers who breach the Equality Act 2010 and subject their employees to pregnancy discrimination will be investigated thoroughly.
The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have found that 1 in 9 women have been made redundant or fired upon returning to their job after maternity leave. Statistics such as this prove that UK organisations are not taking their commitment to protecting the welfare of pregnant employees seriously enough. Therefore, understanding the legislation around pregnancy and work is of the utmost importance to employers and employees.