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Employment law

Pregnancy & maternity employment rights

Are you familiar with what your employer’s duties of care are? Can you spot signs of discrimination? In this article we break down what you need to know.

26 November 2021

Finding out you’re pregnant is arguably one of the most exciting times for many expectant mothers, but this period can also come with a lot of uncertainties as you begin to ask questions around what happens from that point on.

Specifically, you may begin to wonder what your pregnancy work rights are and how the coronavirus pandemic may affect this.

A Trade Union Congress (TUC) survey, conducted in June 2020, found that pregnancy and maternity discrimination increased at the start of the pandemic as more pregnant women and new mums were more likely to be made redundant or furloughed.

Maternity and pregnancy discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfairly, and suffers a disadvantage, because they’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have recently given birth and are on maternity leave. You’re protected from this type of unfair treatment in the workplace under the Equality Act 2010.

The TUC’s findings show that one in four of the 3,400+ new and expectant mums surveyed experienced unfair treatment or discrimination.

Common types of discrimination due to pregnancy and maternity

Aside from unfair treatment during a redundancy or furlough process, you may also experience unfair treatment in the following ways:

  • When you’re going through a recruitment process
  • Not being paid in full while you’re on maternity leave
  • Facing harassment or victimisation at work due to your pregnancy or maternity
  • Disciplinary action for missing work due to pregnancy sickness
  • Not receiving the same opportunities for progression as other employees

An employer’s duties

Now that you know you shouldn’t be subjected to pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, or unfair treatment during maternity, you may still be wondering what your employer is actually obligated to do for you.

When you tell your employer of your maternity situation, there are a number of steps they should, and shouldn’t, take. For example, your employer should carry out a risk assessment to ensure that you and your baby aren’t put at risk and take measures to remove or reduce any risk factors identified.

Your employer should make adjustments to your role or working conditions if the risk to you cannot be avoided. This can take the form of moving your desk to another part of the office if you currently work somewhere identified as unsafe for you and your baby. They may also adjust your working hours, pattern, or allow you to work from home if possible.

Your employer’s other duties include:

  • Giving you paid time off to attend antenatal appointments
  • Allowing you to take statutory maternity leave if you’re eligible
  • Giving you compulsory maternity leave of two weeks (or four weeks if you work in a factory) if you don’t wish to take statutory maternity leave
  • Paying you during your maternity leave if you’re eligible – this could be statutory or contractual maternity pay
  • Not expecting you to keep working while on maternity leave, except for KIT days

Can I be made redundant?

A potentially fair reason for dismissal could be redundancy. However, if your pregnancy and redundancy can be linked without good reason and if it cannot be shown that the requirement for your role has either diminished or ceased, this could amount to unfair dismissal.

If a redundancy process is started before or after your maternity leave, your employer can't simply dismiss you. They must still follow a full procedure and mustn’t rely on your pregnancy and maternity as a reason for dismissal. They must also do all they can to find suitable alternative employment for you.

Am I entitled to flexible working?

Working from home while pregnant may be a popular choice for many expectant mothers, even though homeworking guidance to curb the spread of coronavirus has been eased. This may be because it reduces the stress of commuting to work and could help you better manage your pregnancy symptoms.

However, seeing as it may not have been possible for you to work from home if your role doesn’t allow it – or continue to work from home if it’s not feasible long-term – you should speak to your employer about your options and whether flexibility is achievable. If you’re concerned that your flexible working request has been unfairly rejected, speak to our employment solicitors.

If you’re currently working flexibly and you’re pregnant, you may not need to continue working from home while on maternity leave unless you choose to ‘keep in touch’ with your workplace (known as KIT days). KIT days are optional, meaning your employer mustn’t force you to work, but they must pay you in full for the hours you do work. KIT days can also be used to attend work for training.

How can we help

There’s a three-month minus one day time limit to bring action to a tribunal, meaning you may need to act fast if you feel that you’ve experienced discrimination because of your pregnancy and maternity. While not all claims will need to reach tribunal level, it’s best to seek legal advice to find out the best course of action for you.

Regardless of whether your employer’s business has been severely impacted by the pandemic, you shouldn’t have to deal with unfair treatment in the workplace during any stage of your maternity. Whether you’ve been made redundant while pregnant or on maternity leave, or you’re being forced to work during maternity leave, talk to our experts about your pregnancy employment rights and we will help you better understand your options.

Call us on 0330 041 5869. Or, if you prefer, you can contact us via our online form or web chat.

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