Pregnancy in the workplace is an enormous topic that requires proactive planning and forward thinking by employers. This isn’t just about knowing the ins-and-outs of employee rights during pregnancy – even though this is important. It’s also about wider issues, such as staff retention, diversity and inclusion, morale, recruitment costs, employer branding and more. Those employers who successfully support their pregnant employees throughout their pregnancy benefit from motivated, loyal employees who are much more likely to return to work and not take their skills and commitment elsewhere.

This means that employers need clarity over every area of pregnancy at work rights. But they also need to know how to go beyond this into the realm of best practice, and how to build positive relationships between line managers and pregnant employees. Indeed, training line managers should be a central tenet of your approach, so that there is a consistent and managed approach to pregnancy and employment in your workplace. 

Employee rights during pregnancy

It’s shocking that pregnant employees still sometimes feel the need to ask “can employers discriminate against pregnancy?” The fundamental premise that underpins everything about pregnancy and employment is that an employer cannot discriminate against someone on the grounds of pregnancy, or pregnancy related sickness. 

There are a number of different employee rights during pregnancy. Here, we’ll list the most important employee rights during pregnancy for employers to be aware of:

Paid time off for antenatal appointments

Pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off work for medically recommended antenatal appointments. This pregnancy related time off work includes check-ups with the midwife, scans, and even things such as classes recommended by a medical professional. If the employee meets the requirements for entitlement to maternity leave, then they are entitled to this paid time off.

Employers can ask for evidence of these appointments, such as an appointment card. So that there’s a consistent approach, and the employer acts fairly, this should be clearly established in the pregnancy policy at work. 

It may be difficult for employers to balance business demands and the appointments of their pregnant employees. However, there are only very rare cases where an employer can refuse appointment attendance. Employers can ask employees to make appointments outside of work hours wherever possible, but it’s important that they are realistic that this isn’t always an option. 

Sick pay during pregnancy

Pregnant employees are entitled to sick pay, but it is much more complex than standard sick pay – particularly in the third trimester when sick leave and maternity leave can impact one another. As an employer, it’s important to realise that employees may worry about maternity pay and sick pay impacts, and this can worsen the situation. Employers can help by realising the difficulties and offering as much financial support as possible. The Citizens Advice Bureau provides detailed information about sick pay during pregnancy.

Health and safety

An employee is allowed to choose when to tell you they are pregnant. However, they should tell you at least 15 weeks before the due date. This isn’t always possible, for example, if your employee doesn’t know they are pregnant. However, in these cases, they should tell their employer as soon as possible. 

Can an employer ask for proof of pregnancy?

Employers may ask for proof of an appointment, for example for pregnancy related time off work, apart from for the first appointment. Employers also need evidence for maternity leave and pay, in the form of a MATB1 form. 

Once you know that an employee is pregnant, you as the employer have additional responsibilities in the area of health and safety, as well as offering paid time off for antenatal appointments. 

As soon as possible, employers should carry out a risk assessment for any pregnant employee. This should cover every aspect of their employment. For example, the risk assessment should consider factors such as working hours, length of time standing and sitting, and also any heavy lifting. 

At this stage, good employers will talk to their pregnant employees about what they need to continue effectively in their role. There can be discussion about different working patterns, more working from home, or other adjustments to make things easier. An employer that proactively considers the needs of their employees, for example how to avoid a crowded train commute, will earn the respect and loyalty of their employees.

Many employers choose to go above and beyond, offering additional maternity benefits and support above the legal minimum. It takes time, effort and money to recruit and develop your workforce. As such, it is in the interests of the employer to encourage commitment, and enable pregnant employees to continue in their role, both during pregnancy and after maternity leave. The way to do this is by being a maternity and family friendly employer.

It’s not just a job for HR

Importantly, employers do best when they realise that supporting pregnant employees in the workplace isn’t just about the role that HR plays. It’s essential that all line managers know and understand the company’s pregnancy policy at their place of work, and are trained in preventing discrimination and delivering support. 

This support should go beyond basic and contractual rights. Line managers can also support pregnant employees in the workplace by considering things such as early pregnancy tiredness, discretion to allow someone with morning sickness to change their hours or work from home, and offering tailored advice about their maternity pay. They can learn more about issues such as managing stress at work during pregnancy

It’s also important that the employer demonstrates that they will offer a welcoming environment post pregnancy and birth. Being clear with pregnant employees about such things as Keeping In Touch (KIT) days during maternity leave, or workplace coaching for parents returning from maternity leave, can show employees that employers are invested in supporting them during this time.  

How to prevent pregnancy discrimination in the workplace

The simplest and easiest way to prevent pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is to be an employer that realises the value of their pregnant employees. Through this, your pregnancy policy at work can be shaped to support pregnant employees. Furthermore, training all line managers in the application of this policy and the company ethos is crucial. 

We’ve given the initial knowledge you need, now it’s time to put it into practice and get your pregnancy policy up and running. Why not join a Bloss workshop about managing new and expectant parents? You’ll leave with a better understanding of how to support your employees through the different transitional stages.