The legal rights of new and expectant mothers in the workplace in the UK are protected by law. They include, appropriate health and safety measures, rest facilities for pregnant and breastfeeding women and protection from any unlawful discrimination due to pregnancy and maternity leave.
These rights are protected by three key pieces of legislation; Management of Health and Safety at Work 1999 (MHSW), Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 (the Workplace regulations) and the Equality Act 2010.
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 the workplace be told a woman is a new or expectant mother?
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. However, they do not have to. Many women wait until they are 12 weeks pregnant and have had their first scan before announcing a pregnancy.
However, an employer is not required to take further action until an employer has been given written notification of a pregnancy. Without this they have no responsibility to change working conditions or hours of work. An employer can ask for a certificate from a GP or midwife to confirm the pregnancy.
Once it is known an employee is a new or expectant mother the MHSW legislation protects them. Employers must then identify risks and manage them. Regulation 3 of MHSW places a legal duty on all employers to assess the health and safety risks at work. Therefore, a risk assessment is a legal requirement when pregnant.
All workers have a legal right to be protected from harm. A risk assessment helps employers identify risks, check controls measures are in place and prevent harm. Workplace risk assessments should identify risks to women of childbearing age with special consideration to new and expectant mothers. Risks which pose a particular threat to this group of people should be identified and managed as part of the general workplace risk assessment.
Breastfeeding and a private, safe space
Women are legally allowed to breastfeed at work with no time limitations. The breastfeeding employee should tell the employer in writing they will be doing this in work. Ideally this should be done before they return to work as this gives the employer time to provide a safe and suitable available space. Toilets are not an appropriate space for this. There is no legal requirement for an employer to provide a place for an employee to express milk but there is a legal requirement to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest and this should include somewhere to lie down.
Unlawful discrimination against new and expectant mothers
The Equality act 2010 protects women from unlawful discrimination due to pregnancy and maternity. Discrimination against the Equality Act protected characteristics is unlawful. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is defined as being treated unfairly due to pregnancy, breastfeeding or because of recently giving birth.
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 trying course.