Pregnancy and the workplace
Following on from our health and safety at work series, we will be looking this week at health and safety concerning employees who are pregnant.
Being pregnant should not prevent employees from working and developing their career, with many women returning to work soon after their pregnancy has ended.
Employers have a duty to consider pregnant women and those who are likely to become pregnant when assessing health and safety risks in the workplace, and should monitor and review any assessments made to take into account possible risks that may occur at different stages of pregnancy.
If an employee discovers that she is pregnant, she should let her employer know at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week that her baby is due. If this is not possible, she should let her employer know as soon as possible. She should also tell her employer when she wants to start her Statutory Maternity Leave and Statutory Maternity Pay.
Pregnant employees are entitled to take reasonable time off for antenatal appointments once they have told their employer that they are pregnant. It is unlawful for an employer to refuse to pay this leave at the employee’s normal rate of pay. However, employees should endeavour to take time off outside of normal working hours, where possible. Employees may also be required to provide their employers with a certificate from their GP or midwife confirming their pregnancy. Fathers do not have any legal right to take time off work to accompany their partners to antenatal appointments, as the right to paid time off only applies to pregnant employees.
Employers have a duty to review their risk assessments and identify any changes that are necessary to protect pregnant women and their unborn baby’s health. Employers should involve employees in this process and continue to review the assessment as the pregnancy progresses. If any risks are identified, the employer must inform their employees directly, or through an appointed health and safety representative. The employer must then remove the risk or remove the pregnant employee from exposure to it, for example, by offering suitable alternative work or suspending the pregnant employee from work on full paid leave for as long as necessary. Employers must also take into account any medical advice from an employee’s GP or midwife about health and safety, and adjust working conditions accordingly.
If you feel that you are at risk because of your pregnancy, your first port of call should be your employer. If this does not achieve satisfactory results, you can get further advice from the Health and Safety Executive (NI) on 0800 0320 121.You may need to make a complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure.
For more information on health and safety at work, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Further guidance can be found on www.nidirect.gov.uk.
Sian Fisher is an Information Officer with Citizens Advice.