An employer has a range of responsibilities when it comes to protecting pregnant employees in the workplace. If an employer does not maintain their responsibilities in the workplace, they will face investigation by the UK's Health and Safety Executive for failing to abide by health and safety law. Therefore, it is important that employers know what they should do to effectively protect pregnant employees in the workplace.
Steps for employers to follow when an employee is pregnant
1) Initially, when an employee informs you that they are pregnant, it is important to respond positively and assure the employee that you will support their pregnancy journey within the workplace. An employee legally does not have to inform their employer of their pregnancy until the 15th week before their due date.
2) As an employer, you must ask your employee to provide notice of their pregnancy in writing.
3) Then, an employer must organise a meeting with the employee to discuss the health and safety factors in the workplace, the employee's intended date to begin their maternity leave and if the employee wants to receive maternity pay.
4) An employer must carry out a risk assessment to ensure the workplace is safe for the pregnant employee to continue working. General risk assessments identify potential risks and hazards in the workplace, but once an employee is pregnant, these types of risks might change. Therefore, it is a good idea to conduct a separate risk assessment for a pregnant employee.
5) An employer must provide emotional support to the pregnant employee. The Equality Act 2010 states that expectant mothers in the workplace legally should not be subject to discrimination or unfair treatment as a result. As an employer it is important to show your support and consideration for pregnant employees throughout their time at work. If an employee feels that their treatment has changed since announcing their pregnancy, they can report their employee to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
6) An employer must provide the necessary maternity pay and maternity leave, which is either the UK's statutory allowance or the organisation's contractual policy, which tends to be more generous.
Pregnant employee rights
As an employer, you must ensure that a pregnant employee's rights are upheld. These rights refer to the following:
Statutory Maternity Leave: In the UK, this is 52 weeks in total, which can begin from 11 weeks before the due date. You can return to work after 2 weeks of giving birth, or 4 weeks if you work in a factory. Maternity leave and pay will automatically begin if the employee takes time off work for a pregnancy-related illness during the 4 weeks before the due date.
Statutory Maternity Pay: In the UK, statutory maternity pay can be provided for 39 weeks. An employee can receive 90% of their average weekly wage for the first 6 weeks, and for the following 33 weeks either £148.68 or 90% of your average weekly wage, whichever is lowest.
Risk assessment for pregnant employees
This risk assessment should consider all potential risks to the employee and the unborn child. This can be done by assessing the employee's job role and the tasks involved in this.
If an employee's job role includes working with toxic substances, lifting, standing or sitting for long periods of time, working in extreme weather conditions or working for long hours, it could mean that the employer needs to find alternative work for the employee to complete.
Once the employer has analysed all potential risks, if there is no alternative work which can be organised for the employee, it could mean that the pregnant employee must be signed off from work but they will still be entitled to their full pay. It is important that an employer deals with instances such as this carefully, to avoid sexually discriminating against pregnant employees.
UK Health and Safety Legislation regarding new and expectant mothers in the workplace
UK employers must abide by the following sets of legislation:
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: This states that employers must protect the health and safety of new and expectant mothers.
- The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992: This states that employers must offer "suitable facilities". This includes providing a safe, secure and private space which new and expectant mothers can use to rest and express milk.
- The Equality Act 2010: This states that employers must ensure that new and expectant mothers are not subject to discrimination or unfair treatment.
It is important for employers to understand their responsibilities regarding new and expectant mothers in the workplace, to ensure they are remaining compliant with UK health and safety law.