Are women entitled to more breaks during pregnancy? Firstly, an employee should let you know they are pregnant and discuss with you whether it is possible for any changes to be made to their working conditions to protect their health and safety. Secondly, as an employer you must provide somewhere suitable for a pregnant woman or nursing mother to rest, where they can lie down.
The Working Regulations 1998 state that all employees are entitled to a 20 minute, uninterrupted break if working for more than 6 hours. The break must be taken during working hours and cannot be at the beginning or end of the day.
Additional rights for new and expectant mothers
Pregnancy can cause women to feel sick and tired. However, it is not an illness and many pregnant and breastfeeding women work full time. If your business employs women of child bearing age you must have policies in place which cover pregnancy risk assessment and new mother risk assessment procedures. This needs to be in place even if you have no pregnant staff. It is possible to be pregnant and not know many months. During this time, and indeed when the pregnancy is confirmed, the woman and her unborn child should not be put at risk in the workplace.
When are women considered new and expectant mothers?
A new or expectant mother is a woman who is pregnant, has given birth within the last six months or is breastfeeding.
A woman must not have given birth to a living child to be considered a ‘new mother’. The MHSW defines ‘given birth’ as having ‘delivered a living child, or after 24 weeks of pregnancy, a stillborn child’. Therefore, a woman who has given birth to a stillborn child has the same rights as a woman who gave birth to a live one.
When should they inform their employer of the pregnancy?
An employee has no legal obligation to tell their employer they are pregnant or even that they have given birth and are breastfeeding. However it is important for the mother and child’s health and safety that employers are told, in writing, as soon as possible. The early signs of pregnancy can now be detected soon after conception. Early pregnancy symptoms include morning sickness and tiredness. This can impact on the employees work so they may choose to inform their employer early. Many women wait until they are 12 weeks pregnant and have had their first scan before announcing a pregnancy. An employer can ask for a certificate from a GP or midwife to confirm the pregnancy.
Employers are not required to take further action until they have been given written notification of a pregnancy. Without this they have no responsibility to change working conditions or hours of work.
What to do if an Employee is Pregnant
Once it is confirmed an employee is pregnant has given birth or is breastfeeding your business must carry out a specific risk assessment. This should involve the employee and take into account any advice provided by the employee’s midwife or GP.
If this assessment identifies any risks you must minimise, remove or control them. Some work is completely unsuitable for pregnancy such as working with certain biological and chemical substances. Likewise, some jobs are unsuitable if they involve:
- Long working hours
- Excessive standing
- Very high heights
- Low and high temperatures
- Working alone
- Loud and excessive noise and vibration
In these circumstances you would need to consider:
Is it possible to temporarily adjust hours of work or adjust working conditions?
Can you offer alternative work which is suitable, at the same rate of pay?
This may not be possible. If no suitable work is available the employee can not continue to work for the business for health and safety reasons. If every possibility has been explored and there is no other option the employee must be suspended from work on full pay.
So, all organisations need to be aware of the law and how it impacts on new and expectant mothers. Employers must ensure they comply with the law and that treat employees fairly and protect their rights before, during and after her baby is born. Engage in Learning, an online training course provider offers a New and Expectant Mothers training course.