Pregnant employees have legal rights while at work. By knowing pregnant employee rights, it’s clear what is expected of you and what you can expect from your employer. These rights will protect you from unfair treatment. They’ll make sure you’re working in a safe environment and that you get the time off you’re entitled to for antenatal appointments. 

This guide serves as an outline of the legal rights held by pregnant employees from antenatal care to returning to work after maternity leave.

Pregnant Employee Rights Overview

There are 4 central pregnant employee rights:

  • paid time off for antenatal care
  • maternity leave
  • pay or allowance while on maternity leave
  • protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal

We’ll also look at the rights you have if you are made redundant while pregnant or on maternity leave.

Pregnant Employee Rights: Antenatal Care

Your employer should provide paid time off for antenatal care if you are eligible for maternity leave. In general, ‘employees’ qualify for maternity leave while ‘workers’ do not. By definition, a ‘worker’ is someone who works for an agency, has a zero-hour contract, or is a casual worker. 

What’s more, antenatal care doesn’t just include medical appointments. It also covers antenatal or parenting classes and relaxation classes provided they’ve been recommended by a midwife, nurse or doctor. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked for your employer or the number of hours you work.

On appointment days, you should receive the same pay. You should not be asked to work extra hours to make up for the time off you’ve taken.

Furthermore, this right extends to the partner of a pregnant person for two antenatal appointments, although it is unpaid.

Pregnant Employee Rights: Maternity Leave

Firstly, pregnant employees should note that they must inform their employer about the pregnancy at least 15 weeks prior to the week the baby is due. Or, if the employee did not know about the pregnancy until after that point, they must tell their employer as soon as possible. 

Additionally, if pregnant employees choose not to take statutory leave, they must take compulsory maternity leave after the birth of the baby. This is a compulsory paid leave of 2 weeks, or 4 weeks if the pregnant person works in a factory.

You are then entitled to maternity rights at work once you have informed your employer about your pregnancy.

For more details on maternity leave, including what happens with pregnancy-related illnesses, read our guide on Maternity Leave. We also have guides on Paternity Leave and Adoption Leave

Pregnant Employee Rights: Maternity Pay

If pregnant employees are entitled to maternity leave, there’s a good chance they’re also entitled to maternity pay. The options available are:

  • statutory maternity pay – this is the standard maternity pay and is the legal minimum your employer can pay you
  • contractual maternity pay – an alternative to statutory maternity pay. Check your contract or company maternity policy for information on this
  • Maternity Allowance – a government scheme offered to employees who can’t get statutory maternity pay from your employer

Citizens Advice can give you personalised information based on your due date about when you’re entitled to statutory maternity pay.

Pregnant Employee Rights: Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination

If you are a pregnant employee, UK laws protect you from discrimination in a number of ways.

First and foremost, an employer cannot dismiss or not offer a job to a person because they are pregnant or on maternity leave. This does not mean that a person who is pregnant or on maternity cannot be dismissed. Instead, it means that the employers must give them other reasons in writing.

In turn, to avoid any other forms of discrimination, the related laws prevent the employer from changing the employees’ pay whilst pregnant or on maternity leave. 

Furthermore, the employer cannot change the agreement made with the pregnant person in regards to when they will take maternity leave and when they will return. The law applies no matter how long the person has been an employee.

Pregnant Employee Rights: Redundancy

Employees who are made redundant because of their pregnancy (or while they are on maternity leave) may be in a position to make a claim on the grounds of unfair dismissal, automatic unfair dismissal and/or pregnancy/maternity discrimination.

In addition, you have the right to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy ahead of other employees if your job is at risk of redundancy during maternity leave. This is only possible if one exists. In this situation, you are also exempt from going to assessment procedures or interviews.

Pregnant Employee Rights: Health and Safety

An employer must extend any health and safety precautions, should there be any hazards that pose a risk to the employee and their baby. These include heavy lifting, going long periods without adequate breaks, exposure to toxic substances or working long hours.

The employer must take all reasonable steps to remove any hazards. Should the employee become unable to carry out their job because of the risks, employers must suspend them on full pay.

Do you believe you are at risk in your job but your employer disagrees? Get in contact with your company’s health and safety or trade union representative. If this does not bring about any change, speak to your doctor or contact the Health and Safety Executive.

Key Takeaways

In summary, it’s essential to know your rights and what you legally qualify for as a pregnant employee. Both your physical and mental health is of utmost importance at this time. 

Be sure to check out Refreshing a Career’s dedicated section on Parenthood for all the information and the support and resources you’ll need as a pregnant employee.