Pregnant employees have 4 main legal rights:
- paid time off for antenatal care
- maternity leave
- maternity pay or maternity allowance
- protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal
‘Antenatal care’ isn’t just medical appointments - it can also include antenatal or parenting classes if they’ve been recommended by a doctor or midwife.
Employers can’t change a pregnant employee’s contract terms and conditions without agreement - if they do they are in breach of contract.
Employers must give pregnant employees time off for antenatal care and pay their normal rate for this time off. The father or pregnant woman’s partner has the right to unpaid time off work to go to 2 antenatal appointments.
Maternity leave and Statutory Maternity Pay will start automatically if the employee is off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the 4 weeks before the baby is due - it doesn’t matter what has been previously agreed.
Compulsory maternity leave
If the employee isn’t taking Statutory Maternity Leave, they must take 2 weeks off after the baby is born - or 4 weeks if they work in a factory.
Telling the employer about the pregnancy
Employees must tell their employer about the pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week the baby is due.
If this isn’t possible (eg because they didn’t know they were pregnant) the employer must be told as soon as possible.
Employees must also tell the employer when they want to start their Statutory Maternity Leave and Statutory Maternity Pay.
Employees can’t take time off for antenatal appointments until they’ve told the employer about the pregnancy.
Health and safety for pregnant employees
When the employee tells her employer she’s pregnant, the employer should assess the risks to the woman and her baby.
Risks could be caused by:
- heavy lifting or carrying
- standing or sitting for long periods without adequate breaks
- exposure to toxic substances
- long working hours
Where there are risks, the employer should take reasonable steps to remove them, eg by offering the employee different work or changing their hours.
The employer should suspend the employee on full pay if they can’t remove any risks, eg by offering suitable alternative work.
Pregnant employees who think they’re at risk but their employer disagrees should talk to their health and safety or trade union representative. If your employer still refuses to do anything, talk to your doctor or contact the Health and Safety Executive.