Pregnancy and work

Find out about how to work safely during your pregnancy, when you should let your boss know, and understand your rights at work when you’re pregnant.

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

Tips for working safely during pregnancy:

  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Stretch your legs every couple of hours.
  • It will depend on your job but try to put your feet up if they’re swollen and uncomfortable. You could use a foot rest or a box – anything that feels comfortable.
  • Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes.
  • Take a healthy packed lunch and snacks. This will stop you eating unhealthy snacks at work.
  • Ask for help when lifting heavy things at work.

Your rights at work

Most of the information below relates to employees who are on their employer’s payroll and covers the minimum legal maternity rights (the things that every employer has to do). Check your employment contract to see if your company offers better maternity benefits.

Self-employed and agency workers

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

When do I have to tell my manager that I'm pregnant?

Legally you don’t have to tell your manager that you’re pregnant until 15 weeks before your ‘Expected Week of Childbirth’ (the week of your baby’s due date).

It is usually a good idea to tell them sooner though, especially if you have a physical job or need extra check-ups in your pregnancy for any reason. By law you are entitled to paid time off for all antenatal appointments. It will also help them plan for your maternity leave. Many women tell employers after 12 weeks when the risk of miscarriage goes right down. This is also around the time of your first pregnancy appointment, the booking appointment.

Once you have talked to your manager, you will need to put your pregnancy in writing. The letter should state your due date and the date you plan to start your maternity leave. You should also include any details about holiday you want to take before that time. As well as your letter, they will need your MAT B1 form, which you will get from your midwife at around 20 weeks of pregnancy

Your manager should reply to you to confirm the latest date that your maternity leave can end. This will be the date when you will return to work, unless you choose to come back sooner. Read more about the length of your maternity leave.

Telling your manager about your pregnancy early

You can tell your manager[ about your pregnancy as early as you like. However, if you do decide to tell them early and don’t want anyone else at work to know, make it clear that your news should not be shared until you’re ready.

What is my Expected Week of Childbirth (EWC)? 

Your EWC is the week when your baby is due. It will be stated on the MAT B1 form, which will be given to you by your midwife around 20 weeks into your pregnancy.

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

Examples

  1. Alison’s baby is due Friday 29 March 2019.
    Alison’s EWC starts the Sunday before, Sunday 24 March 2019.
    Therefore, legally, Alison would need to let her employer know about her pregnancy on the week starting 9 December 2018.
  2. Amina’s baby is due Sunday 31 March 2019.
    Because Amina’s baby is due on a Sunday that is when her EWC starts.
    Therefore, legally, Amina would need to let her employer know about her pregnancy on the week starting 16 December 2018.

MAT B1 forms and why they’re important

The MAT B1 form, or maternity certificate, proves to an employer that you are pregnant and confirms your EWC.

You must give your MAT B1 to your employer because without it you cannot claim Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or any other maternity benefits.

Health and safety at work

When you formally tell your employer that you’re pregnant (that is, in writing) they may think about doing a risk assessment of your job. They’ll need to find out if any changes are needed to make you more comfortable at work.

If there are any risks to your health, or your baby’s health, these must be addressed.

Health and safety covers obvious problems like loose cables, but also things like posture, noise, and tiredness. 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 items.

Your employer may need to offer you different types of work or a change to your working hours. If your employer can't get rid of the risks (for example by finding other suitable work without any reduction in pay for you), they should offer you suspension on full pay.

Working long hours during pregnancy

It is unclear whether working very long hours during pregnancy increases a woman’s risk of miscarriage or preterm birth. Evidence shows there may be a small increase in risk. However, it is not enough to make it compulsory for employers to reduce working hours to below 40 hours per week.

If you feel that working long hours is causing you physical or mental harm during your pregnancy, talk to your midwife or GP. They can advise you on whether you’re doing too much, and if you are how you can approach it with your employer.

Pregnancy and sick leave

If you are ill because of your pregnancy (morning sickness for example) and need to take time off work, it cannot be counted on your sickness record. However, taking time off for an illness that is not because of your pregnancy, such as a bad cold, will count towards your sickness record.

If your company usually provides company sick pay (such as full basic pay for a certain number of days of sickness) then you are still eligible for company sick pay in the same way as your colleagues. However, your pregnancy does not mean you are entitled to any more company sick pay than your colleagues are. If your company doesn’t offer company sick pay you can apply for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

If, before you start your maternity leave, you are off work with a pregnancy-related illness from 36 weeks your manager can make you start your maternity leave early.

Find out more about getting sick pay when you’re pregnant.

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

Time off for antenatal appointments

By law your employer must allow you paid time off for antenatal appointments.

All pregnant women are also entitled to ‘reasonable’ paid time off work to go to any relaxation, parenting or smoking cessation classes. However, these should be recommended by your midwife or GP as part of your care. You may be asked for a letter from a healthcare professional to prove it.

Travelling and waiting times are included too, so don’t worry about rushing or if your appointment is late.

Read more about your right to go to appointments.

Maternity leave and pay

Maternity leave

Employees 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 (OML), and 26 weeks’ Additional Maternity Leave (AML).  OML and AML offer slightly different rights about your return to work.

Your employer will assume that you will return at the end of your Additional Maternity Leave (after 52 weeks). If you plan to come back earlier, you will need to give them 8 weeks' notice in writing.

Maternity pay

You may be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). If so, 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/maternity-pay-leave.

If you don’t go back to work after maternity leave

If you decide not to return to work at all, then you need to resign in the normal way and hand in your notice according to your contract of employment with your company. For example, your work may ask for 4 weeks’ notice or more. Make sure you check your contract.

Find out more about resigning during maternity leave.

Fair and unfair dismissal during pregnancy

While you can be fired or made redundant during pregnancy the dismissal MUST NOT in any way relate to your pregnancy, a pregnancy-related illness or your maternity leave plans.

If you are fired or made redundant because of your pregnancy or maternity leave it is classed as unfair dismissal.

See Maternity Action for more about problems at work and unfair dismissal.

Tommy's Pregnancy at Work Accreditation Programme

At Tommy's we run a highly respected Pregnancy Accreditation Programme that 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.

Tell your employer about Tommy’s Pregnancy at Work scheme.

 

More about work and pregnancy

Sources

  1. Gov.uk, Working when pregnant, London Cabinet Office, 2013 (https://www.gov.uk/working-when-pregnant-your-rights)
  2. NHS Health at Work. 'Physical and shift work in pregnancy': https://www.nhshealthatwork.co.uk/physical-shift-pregnancy.asp

  3. NHS Health at Work. 'Physical and shift work in pregnancy Occupational aspects of management': https://www.nhshealthatwork.co.uk/images/library/files/Clinical%20excell...

  4. Royal College of Physicians. 'Advising women with a healthy, uncomplicated, singleton pregnancy on: long working hours and the risk of miscarriage and preterm delivery': https://www.nhshealthatwork.co.uk/images/library/files/Clinical%20excell...

  5. Maternity Action. 'Get advice': https://www.maternityaction.org.uk/advice-2/

  6. NHS. 'Work and pregnancy': https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/your-health-at-work-pre...

  7. GOV.UK. 'Maternity pay and leave': https://www.gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave
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Last reviewed on October 26th, 2018. Next review date October 26th, 2021.

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