Many pregnant employees will at some point experience sickness – both during work hours and at home. It’s important to understand that pregnancy sickness doesn’t just involve the physical symptoms your employees may feel, but also the mental ones too.
Whether you’re worried about providing the right support to your pregnant employees or simply want to learn a little more about what you can do as an employer, this article is for you. It’s got advice for employers on how to deal with pregnancy sickness at work, and how best to support their pregnant employees during this time. Morning sickness, let alone other forms of pregnancy sickness, can impact mental health as well as workplace productivity, so it’s important to get it right.
Expectations of pregnancy sickness
Pregnancy in and of itself is not a sickness. However, say that to anyone experiencing morning sickness and you’ll rightly be glared at! It’s common to experience nausea in the first trimester, as well as increased tiredness in the first and third trimesters.
Additionally, those experiencing pregnancy sickness may experience other pregnancy related illnesses and conditions, such as pelvic girdle pain, gestational diabetes or hyperemesis. Furthermore, pregnant employees are often limited in the symptom-reducing medication they can take for things such as colds, making them unable to work with something a non-pregnant employee could ‘battle through’ and remain working.
It’s important to make sure that you have a realistic and fair idea of what your pregnant employees can manage in relation to pregnancy sickness.
Let’s start with some tips on how you can make it easier for pregnant employees to manage pregnancy sickness at work, before moving on to what you need to know regarding employee sickness during pregnancy and employment law if time off is needed.
How to help your pregnant employees deal with pregnancy sickness at work
It can be difficult to know how to help your pregnant employees who are dealing with pregnancy sickness, and even more so if they haven’t confided in you that they are pregnant yet. Wherever possible, we recommend an open relationship between line managers and employees so that the best solutions can be found.
Our suggestions for helping your pregnant employees with pregnancy sickness include:
1. Allow flexible work hours and remote working
If a pregnant employee is suffering from morning sickness, an easy way to help is to facilitate a change in working hours, or allow more working from home as either a hybrid or remote employee. Often, these simple changes are enough to enable someone suffering from morning sickness to still ‘get the job done’. This requires open and honest communication.
It’s important to keep in mind that many employees may suffer from morning sickness in the first trimester when they may not be ready to share the news of their pregnancy with wider colleagues. Understanding and discretion should always be used.
2. Encourage restful breaks
Rest is imperative to your pregnant employees being able to effectively manage their pregnancy sickness. Encourage using breaks such as lunch to truly unwind and relax, without thinking about work.
Lunch breaks can be used to rest and it may be necessary for your pregnant employees to draw on other support outside of work so that they rest more. This could be as simple as coming home to a tidy house where they don’t have to do the washing up!
3. Consider their commute
Commuting when pregnant can be much more difficult and uncomfortable. This presents a good argument for flexible hours and allowing your pregnant employees to work from home, if possible.
If pregnant employees usually take public transport because of a lack of available parking, you could offer temporary parking arrangements to enable them to drive.
4. Listen to what’s needed
Not all pregnancies are the same, so not all pregnancy sickness is the same.
Depending on the type of pregnancy sickness, they may need to think of different solutions. The important thing is to listen to what your employees tell you they need to be able to manage their pregnancy sickness better.
5. Suggest an occupational health assessment
It can also be beneficial for your pregnant employees to have an occupational health assessment. This can help you and your employee to come up with strategies to help manage pregnancy sickness in the workplace.
6. Understand their rights
It can be worrying for employees dealing with pregnancy sickness at work who are also missing work due to pregnancy sickness. They may worry about the effect on their career or rights.
It’s important to understand how employment law applies when employees take time off work due to pregnancy sickness. We explain more below.
Pregnancy sickness – time off work
If a pregnant employee is too ill to work then pregnancy sickness is understood to be the reason why they are off work. The standard sick leave procedures should be followed.
It’s vital that if employees are off work due to pregnancy sickness, they get their doctor or midwife to specify this on their sick note. There are different rules in employment law for managing sick leave.
In employment law, pregnancy sickness is treated differently. Employees cannot be disciplined for pregnancy sickness time off work. Furthermore, pregnancy sickness off work cannot be counted as part of an employee’s total sickness absence, for the purpose of things such as redundancy planning.
Pregnant employees are entitled to additional protections during employment in terms of Health and Safety. You cannot ask a pregnant employee to take time off sick if the reason they can’t work is because of Health and Safety concerns. Instead, you should work to remove the risk (such as heavy lifting) or offer them alternative work with the same pay and benefits. If neither of these options are possible then full pay should be paid anyway.
It becomes a little more complicated towards the end of the pregnancy. If an employee is missing work due to pregnancy sickness within four weeks of their due date, then this triggers maternity leave to begin automatically and maternity pay is then paid in place of sick pay. This applies unless it is mutually decided to delay for reasons such as Health and Safety.
Missing work due to pregnancy sickness may be frustrating, but it should not leave the employee with worries about their employment security.
A collaborative approach
At Bloss, we always recommend a collaborative approach between you as an employer and your pregnant employee. It’s in your interests to support an employee during their pregnancy sickness so that productivity is as high as it can be, but also so that commitment and loyalty remains.
There are many ways to help your pregnant employees manage sickness in the workplace, as well as how to manage missed work due to pregnancy sickness.
Check out how else you can help your pregnant employees in the workplace with our managing expectant and new parents in the workplace workshop.