A working pregnancy

Being pregnant isn’t an illness, but you need to think about how to do your job safely and cope with the demands of your pregnancy.

Healthy work tips

- Rest when you can. Don’t stand when you can sit.
- Take frequent breaks Stretch your legs every two hours.
- Put your feet up to reduce swelling.
- Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes – the killer heels may have to wait until after the birth!
- Take a healthy packed lunch to work – this will stop you impulse buying calorific foods when you get a hunger pang.

Now that you are pregnant your body has two jobs to do – to manage a full or part-time job and to create a healthy baby (or babies!). Both are tiring for different reasons, but it is possible to enjoy your pregnancy and your job at the same time.

Read on for information on your health, and your rights, at work. Most of this information relates to permanent employment and covers the legal minimum maternity rights. Check your employment contract to see if your company provides better maternity benefits.

There are different rules if you are self-employed or an agency worker. Please visit Gov.UK for more detailed information.

Telling your boss

You don’t have to tell your boss that you’re pregnant until the 15th week before the week your baby is due. It may be a good idea to tell them sooner though, especially if you have a strenuous job or need lots of check-ups early in your pregnancy.

Once you have formally notified your boss that you are pregnant they must conduct a risk assessment of your work station and job in general, and allow you paid time off for antenatal appointments. If the risk assessment identifies that there are risks, the employer should take reasonable steps to remove them. This can be achieved by offering the employee different work or changing their hours. If the employer can't remove the risks (for example by offering suitable alternative work), the employee should be suspended on full pay.

To formally notify your boss you should write them a letter stating your due date and the date you intend to start your maternity leave, including any details about annual leave that you want to take before that time. Your boss should then write to you to confirm the date that your maternity leave ends (effectively the date you return to work, unless you choose to come back sooner).

If you do decide to tell your boss early and don’t want anyone else at work to know, then you should make it clear that you expect confidentiality.

Working out your weeks  

The ‘Expected Week of Childbirth’ (EWC) is the week in which your baby is due, and will be stated on the MATB1 form, given to you by your midwife from 20 weeks.

Maternity leave weeks always start on a Sunday. To find the 15th week before the EWC, find the Sunday before your due date (unless your baby is due on a Sunday, in which case use your due date), and count back 15 weeks.

You’ll need to give your MATB1 to your employer to prove your pregnancy and claim your maternity benefits.

Time off for antenatal care

All pregnant women are entitled to ‘reasonable’ paid time off work to attend antenatal appointments, including any relaxation or parentcraft classes you choose to attend. Travelling and waiting time are included too, so don’t worry about rushing about or if your appointment’s running late.

Sick leave

You might be ill because of your pregnancy (e.g., morning sickness) or for an unrelated reason, such as catching a bad cold. If you do need to take time off work for a pregnancy-related illness then it doesn’t count towards your sickness record.

If your boss usually provides sick pay then you will still be entitled to this. If your company doesn’t offer sick pay you can apply for Statutory Sick Pay.

If you are off work with a pregnancy-related illness from 36 weeks your boss can insist that you start your maternity leave.

If your job is making you ill, or if it is not safe to do while you are pregnant, then this is considered to be a health and safety issue and you will need a risk assessment.

Health and safety at work 

Health and safety covers not just the obvious problems such as loose cables or obstructions but also things like posture, noise, and fatigue. Your job might involve a lot of bending and stretching, being on your feet all day, or travelling long distances – things that might be more difficult to do now that you’re pregnant. It also includes things like lifting heavy boxes.

When you formally tell your employer that you’re pregnant (that is, in writing) they will need to do a risk assessment of your job to find out if there are areas that could be improved to make you more comfortable at work. Your health and the health of your unborn baby must be considered in all areas of your work. If there are any risks to your (or your baby's) health, these must be addressed.

Now that you are pregnant it’s important that you think about taking things more slowly – rushing about or getting stressed is not good for you or your baby. If there are heavy boxes to lift on occasion at work, ask for help.

Maternity rights

You are entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave, regardless of length of service or the number of hours you work. This leave is divided into 26 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave, and 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave, which offer slightly different rights in relation to your return to work.

Your employer will assume that you will return at the end of your Additional Maternity Leave, so if you intend to come back earlier you will need to give them eight weeks' notice in writing.

If you decide to leave work for good then you need to submit your notice according to standard procedure at your company (for example, 4 weeks’ notice).

While you can be sacked or made redundant during pregnancy the dismissal must not in any way relate to your pregnancy, a pregnancy-related illness or your intention to take maternity leave. If you are sacked or made redundant because of your pregnancy or maternity leave it is classed as unfair dismissal.

You may be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). This is paid to you by your employer in your usual pay packet. If you don't qualify for SMP you may be able to claim Maternity Allowance (MA), for example if you are self-employed, or have not been working for your employer for enough weeks to qualify. Both are payable for up to 39 weeks.

For detailed information about maternity leave and pay, visit www.worksmart.org.uk or www.gov.uk.

See our Questions about pregnancy and work page for more information.

Tommy's Pregnancy Accreditation Programme

At Tommy's we run a highly respected Pregnancy Accreditation Programme which aims to ensure all pregnant employees stay healthy. The Programme recognises that a healthy pregnancy in the workplace is a team effort, so both employee and manager need to work together.

Find out more about Tommy's Pregnancy Accreditation Programme

Sources

  1. Gov.uk, Working when pregnant, London Cabinet Office, 2013 (http://www.gov.uk/working-when-pregnant-ytour-rights)
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Last reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.

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