What special rights do pregnant employees have in the workplace?

We take a look at some of the rights pregnant employees have in the workplace.

  • The starting point is that a pregnant employee has the same rights as any other employee with the same length of service, such as unfair dismissal and a right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of any of the “protected characteristics” under the Equality Act.  Those protected characteristics include, for example, age, race and sex.
  • The employee does not need two years service to claim automatic unfair dismissal if they are dismissed for reasons connected with pregnancy and childbirth.
  • ‘Pregnancy and maternity’ is a separate “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act.  Therefore, discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity in the workplace is prohibited under the Equality Act.  It is discriminatory to treat a woman unfavourably during the period from the beginning of her pregnancy to the end of her maternity leave (the Protected Period) because of her pregnancy, or because of an illness she has suffered as a result of her pregnancy.  It is also discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she is on her compulsory maternity leave (first two weeks of maternity leave) or because she is exercising or seeking to exercise, or has exercised or sought to exercise, the right to ordinary or additional maternity leave.
  • Regardless of length of service, employees are entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave.
  • Employees are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay where they have at least 26 weeks service by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of confinement (the Qualifying Week).
  • Pregnant employees are entitled to paid time off to attend ante-natal appointments. Any refusal to allow an employee time off could amount to detrimental treatment which is prohibited under the Employment Rights Act 1996 where the treatment relates to pregnancy, child birth or maternity.
  •  Employers are also under a health and safety duty to assess workplace risks, and alter any working conditions or hours of work to avoid any significant risks for new and expectant mothers.
  • Pregnant employees and those on maternity leave are also protected in a redundancy situation. If her position is potentially redundant, she is entitled to be offered any suitable available vacancy with the employer.

Despite the above, pregnant employees still find themselves being forced out of work because they are pregnant or going to have child care responsibilities. One in five mothers said they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and /or colleagues.

11% of women reported being either dismissed, made compulsorily redundant when others in their workplace were not, or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job. More women over the last 2 years have been turning to Citizens Advice for help on the issue.

The Women and Equalities Committee’s report on pregnancy and maternity discrimination showed that the number of expectant and new mothers forced to leave their jobs had almost doubled since 2005.

The Government’s response to this report acknowledged that the statistics were shocking and said that Matthew Taylor MP will consider the position of maternity rights for workers, when conducting his review into employment status.  We will wait to see what, if any, reforms are put forward to strengthen the protection for pregnant employees in the workplace.

If you require any advice on this topic, or other area of Employment law, please contact Linda Wilson on 01730 268211 or linda.wilson@macdonaldoates.co.uk

N.B. Please note that the above information is a guide only and does not constitute legal advice. We recommend seeking specialist legal advice on your own particular circumstances.