Whether you’ve experienced discrimination in the workplace since becoming pregnant or simply want to know what you’re entitled to, this guide from Rachel Pearce should help.
“I’m pregnant!” I blurted to my line manager when she asked why I’d needed to go to a second medical appointment in a week. If I’d known my rights I might not have been so forthcoming, but I didn’t… and I was excited! “Oh. Not ideal from a work point of view,” she replied. That was the moment my employment woes began, and they snowballed as the pregnancy progressed.
Your work environment can make a massive difference to how supported you feel as your body balloons and your hormones rage, and that’s why it’s so important to know your rights and entitlements. Here are some of the basics:
- Discrimination - It’s illegal for anyone to discriminate against you because you’re pregnant or have a pregnancy-related illness. An employer cannot sack or refuse to hire you because you’re expecting; neither can they change the terms of your employment while you’re on maternity leave. You can be made redundant while pregnant or on maternity leave, but only if the reason is not connected and you are notified in a legal manner.
- Appointments - You’re legally entitled to attend antenatal appointments during work time (usually around ten for first-time mums and around seven for subsequent pregnancies), and you should be paid as normal, including travel time. This may include GP/midwife/consultant appointments, antenatal classes and sessions that support mental health and wellbeing.
- Health and safety - Employers should carry out risk assessments related for all employees, but yours should be reviewed if you’re pregnant, have given birth within the last six months or are breastfeeding. This is particularly important if you’re required to lift heavy loads, are subjected to high levels of stress or have any contact with toxic substances. If you cannot carry out your usual work safely, your employer must offer a viable alternative (one that doesn’t negatively impact you) or a suspension on full pay until your maternity leave starts/it’s safe for you to resume your normal duties.
- Maternity leave - You’re entitled to 52 weeks’ leave, but only the first two after the birth (four for factory workers) are compulsory. Your employer should not try to influence how long you want to take or when you start your leave (providing you’ve given sufficient notice). If the baby arrives suddenly, your maternity leave begins right away… whether you’re ready for it or not! If you’re off work due to a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks prior to your due date, your maternity leave begins automatically, and you will receive maternity pay rather than sick pay from this point.
- Maternity pay - Your employment contract will tell you whether you’re entitled to company maternity pay or not, and for how long. If your company doesn’t offer it (it’s not a legal requirement, shockingly!), you may be entitled to statutory maternity pay (SMP) or maternity allowance (MA). It’s worth noting that although you are entitled to 52 weeks’ leave, these schemes only cover the first 39 weeks.
If you feel your employer is treating you unfairly, it may be worth contacting Citizens Advice, Acas, Pregnant Then Screwed, your union rep or an employment lawyer. If you just want someone to talk to and pray with, call Premier Lifeline - open 9am to midnight every day on 0300 111 0101.