Pregnancy is a wonderful time in a person’s life. But it is also one that has to be fitted in around other aspects of their life, one of the main ones being work. As we spend so much time at the office, it’s essential that pregnant women at work have a suitable environment that makes their life as easy and comfortable as possible. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that the workplace is safe and comfortable for the mother-to-be and developing child. How aware are you on how to deal with pregnancy at work and what needs to be in place in the office? Don’t get caught out and let our guide take you through the legalities and helpful ways to make your office fitting for working mums.
What are pregnant employees’ rights?
In the UK, pregnant employees have four main legal rights:
- Maternity leave
- Maternity pay/allowance
- Paid time off for antenatal care
- Protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal
When should you be informed about a pregnancy from your employees?
Employers must be told about pregnancies from employees at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week the baby is due. If employees didn’t know in time, they must tell as soon as possible.
Pregnant employees must also tell employers when they want to start their Statutory Maternity Leave and Statutory Maternity Pay.
How long can mothers take for maternity leave?
- All pregnant employees get Statutory Maternity Leave which is 52 weeks, made up of: ordinary maternity leave (first 26 weeks) and additional maternity leave (final 26 weeks)
- Employees don’t have to take on the full 52 weeks but it’s mandatory for employees to take two weeks’ leave after the baby is born or if working in a factory, four weeks must be taken
- Employees may be entitled to take some of their leave as Shared Parental Leave
- Fathers or partners are entitled to one or two weeks of paternity leave even if adopting a child, if qualified. To be qualified, they have to have had the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date or by the time they have matched with a child for adoption
- You can offer extra leave if you have a company maternity scheme but make sure all maternity leave and maternity pay policies are available for staff to view
What Maternity Pay and Paternity Pay are employees entitled to?
- Statutory Maternity Pay is paid for up to 39 weeks and employees receive 90% of their average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first six weeks. Then it will be £148.68 or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the continual 33 weeks.
- You can offer extra maternity pay if you have a company maternity scheme but make sure all maternity leave and maternity pay policies are available for staff to view
- If fathers or partners qualify for Paternity Leave, Statutory Paternity Pay is likely to coincide with Paternity Leave and to qualify for pay, employees have to keep working for their employer up to the date of birth and be earning an average of at least £118 a week The rate of pay is the same for both Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Maternity Pay
How much time off can be given for antenatal care?
- ‘Antenatal care’ covers medical appointments, antenatal classes, parenting classes, if recommended by doctors or midwives
- Once employees have informed their employers of their pregnancy, employers must give time off for antenatal care whilst paying their normal rate for the time off
- Partners or fathers have the right to unpaid time off work to attend two antenatal appointments
- Employees can’t take time off for any antenatal appointments until they’ve told their employer about their pregnancy
What are the health and safety requirements for pregnant employees?
- A risk assessment will need to be carried out for a pregnant employee and their baby as soon as an employer has been informed of the pregnancy
- The risk assessment should assess the possible risks caused by heavy lifting or carrying, standing or sitting for long periods of time without adequate breaks, long working hours or exposure to toxic substances
- If there are any of these risks, employers need to take reasonable steps to remove the risks. For instance, sit to stand desks could be put in place to allow employees to work on tasks from different positions, improving comfort and posture
- If risks cannot be removed, then employers should suspend pregnant employees on full pay by offering alternative work
What if employees have pregnancy-related illnesses?
- If an employee is off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the baby is due, Maternity Leave and Statutory Maternity Pay will start automatically no matter what has been previously agreed
- If an employee has to take work off due to a pregnancy-related illness before the four weeks run-up to when the baby is due, then Statutory Sick Pay can be claimed. Maternity Pay may be affected depending on the circumstances
What happens for employees if a baby dies?
- Employees will still qualify for leave or pay if the baby: is stillborn after the start of the 24th week of pregnancy or if the baby dies after being born
Employees rights after giving birth
What rights are in place once employees have given birth?
- If the baby is born early, then leave begins the day after the birth of the baby. Employees must provide birth certificates or a document signed by a doctor or midwife that confirms the date of birth. If babies are born prematurely (15 weeks or more before the due date), then employers need to calculate the Statutory Maternity Pay
- New risk assessments are to be carried out when employees are back in work to accommodate breastfeeding (anchor link?)
- Fathers or partners can take paternity leave (providing they have qualified), from the day the baby is born, from the day a child is placed with them for adoption or from a date after the birth or adoption that is agreed in advance between employee and employer
How should offices accommodate breastfeeding?
- New mothers when returning to work have certain rights, including breastfeeding rights. A new risk assessment is needed to be done which looks out for the same health and safety risks from the assessment done when an employee first informs an employer they are pregnant
- Risks to be assessed are making sure still that there’s no heavy lifting or carrying, long working hours, exposure to toxic substances or sitting at an office desk for long periods of time. Added to this, is making sure there is space for mums who are breastfeeding to lie down and rest if they need to
- Breastfeeding mums at work can also express milk at work and employers should provide a suitable private space for breastfeeding employees. Guidelines are to make sure a clean and comfortable room is provided with a lockable door (not a toilet). A pregnancy office chair could be provided
- Fridges to store breast milk are encouraged
- If it works best, breastfeeding employees can ask to change hours or their working pattern to fit around their breastfeeding and/or milk expressing. Shared parental leave can also be factored in
Why it is good business to encourage and support breastfeeding for employees:
- Supporting breastfeeding for employees will help for staff retention and it can mean fewer absences as breastfed babies are generally sick less often than formula-fed babies. This means parents will take fewer days off to care for a sick baby
- Parents of breastfed babies have ⅓ of the absences of parents of formula-fed babies
- Retention rates are increased when accommodating breastfeeding mums as employers are reducing training and recruitment costs as they can keep female talent.
- Supported mothers are more likely to return to work and not look elsewhere than unsupported mothers in the workplace. Productivity and loyalty are both significantly increased when accommodating breastfeeding for working mothers
- Accommodating breastfeeding in the workplace is a simple and productive business decision
Source: Maternity Action.
How can offices accommodate breastfeeding and working mums?
- Employers could consider introducing a breastfeeding policy to outline best practice for how employees can make requests which could be included in maternity policies
- All that is needed for an office to accommodate breastfeeding and milk expressing is a separate, private room with a lockable door, giving enough space for a mother to lie and rest
- In order for your office to be the most comfortable and supportive for working mums is to make sure comfortable, suitable seating is available. The chairs you choose can be cost-effective as they can be a suitable addition that can act as either visitor chairs or colleague chairs for those out-of-the-room little catch-ups. They don’t have to take up too much room either. Here are some top picks for multi-purpose office chairs
What employers are NOT allowed to do related to working parents:
- Discriminate against anyone because of pregnancy
- Change a pregnant employee’s contract terms or conditions without agreement. If employers do this, they are in breach of contract
- Keep pregnant employees in work if risks identified by assessments have not been removed
- Discriminate against breastfeeding employees
As a business owner, you know you have to evolve in order to remain successful and companies are realising that accommodating their staff is beneficial for all. Working mums shouldn’t be seen as a hindrance for being able to have the ability to bring life into the world. Make sure to keep up-to-date and refresh your office once in a while. Being prepared with a fitting environment for pregnant employees to show your investment and commitment is worthwhile as employees will show even more loyalty.
Data on maternity and parental rights in the workplace has been taken from the UK Government’s official website.