Home Advice & informationPregnancy Frequently asked questions about health and safety in pregnancy

Frequently asked questions about health and safety in pregnancy

Key steps for risk assessment for pregnant employees or new mothers:

1)  All employers should carry out a general risk assessment if there are women of childbearing age in the workforce – you can ask to see this.

2) Once you have informed your employer in writing that you are pregnant, and if there is any identified risk to you or your unborn child, the employer must conduct a specific risk assessment for you.

3) Your employer is under a duty to remove the risks identified.  This may be done by providing you with equipment to do your job (such as hoists instead of manual lifting) or a chair (so that you don’t have to stand all day).  If the employer can’t remove the risks by providing equipment, they may suggest adjustments to your work  – this might be to reduce particular tasks (such as the amount of lifting you do), or allowing you more breaks or even changing your hours of work to remove the risks.

4) If, after steps 2 and 3, the employer can’t eliminate the risks in your current job, they should give you suitable alternative work, on the same pay.

5) If there is no suitable alternative work, you should be suspended on full pay during your pregnancy while the risks continue.

Here are some frequently asked questions and answers

I’m thinking about becoming pregnant but I’m not sure whether my work conditions will be safe.

Will my employer sack me if I can’t do the job?

My job involves night shifts but my doctor has told me it is unsafe to continue. What should I do?

My employer refuses to carry out a risk assessment, what can I do?

My employer says I should go on sick leave instead?

I work as a saleswoman, working very long hours and I travel all the time for work, but it is exhausting, what can I do?

I have an hour-long commute to get to work and have to be in at 8am. I think it may become too great a strain, what can I do?

Can I ask to reduce my hours because I am so tired?

How will sick leave affect my SMP?

Since becoming pregnant I get really exhausted after just a few hours at my job. Also, I don’t take my holiday leave as my employer doesn’t pay it, what can I do?

I am self employed but I work on contract at various places. Am I covered by the rights?

Does my partner have the right to health and safety protection – I’m worried that chemicals may affect his sperm?

I am a teacher and I’ve just found out that I’m pregnant. There has been an outbreak of rubella at my school – what are my rights?

I am a Flight Attendant and my employer has offered me ground work which is not as well paid – is this ‘suitable alternative work’?

What happens to my pay and other rights if I am suspended on health and safety grounds?

When does my maternity leave start if I am suspended on health and safety grounds?

What can I do to enforce my rights?

I’m thinking about becoming pregnant but I’m not sure whether my work conditions will be safe.

Your employer has a legal duty to take reasonable care to have safe systems of work, to provide a safe place of work, to provide safe plant and equipment and a safe working environment. Your employer must also comply with legal regulations about specific hazards at work for example, chemicals or carrying heavy loads.

Whether or not there is anyone actually pregnant at work at the time, your employer also has a general duty to assess the workplace for risks to the health and the safety of any new or expectant mother or her baby. All employers are required by law to do this if they employ any women of childbearing age (whether or not any of them are pregnant or have recently given birth).  So you could ask to see their general risk assessment, if you are worried.

In addition, if there is a identified risk to you as a pregnant individual, or to your unborn child, they must conduct a specific risk assessment and remove those risks.  If the risks cannot be removed, you should be given suitable alternative work (on the same pay) and, if there is no suitable alternative, you should be suspended on full pay during your pregnancy while the risks continue.  But your employer’s duties only arise when you are pregnant, have told your employer in writing that you are pregnant, and there are identified risks.

My job involves a lot of heavy lifting and my doctor has told me this could harm my baby. I think my employer will sack me when I tell them I can’t do that type of work.

It is AGAINST THE LAW for an employer to sack a woman because she is pregnant, even if she can’t do the same work as before. It is also against the law for an employer to sack you for raising a health and safety concern. Your employer should carry out an assessment, if you have provided evidence of a risk. If they agree there is a risk, they must follow the steps on this page. For example, they should consider whether the lifting can be avoided by using machinery or alter your duties to reduce the amount of lifting you do. If your employer doesn’t accept that the type of lifting you do may be harmful to you or your baby, ask your doctor or midwife for a letter or certificate stating that it is. If the lifting you do involves the risk of your being injured this may be contrary to the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992. See ‘What can I do to enforce my rights?’ below.

It may be automatic sex discrimination if your employer refuses or fails to carry out a risk assessment in respect of a pregnant woman.  This means there is no need to show that a male employee would have been treated differently.

My job involves night shifts but my doctor has told me it is unsafe to continue. What should I do?

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 you are not allowed to work more than 8 hours at night in a 24 hour period. When you are pregnant, have recently given birth or are breastfeeding, you have the right to transfer to suitable alternative day work or, if that is not suitable, to be suspended (on full pay). You must tell your employer in writing that you are pregnant. You must provide your employer with a medical certificate from your doctor or midwife stating that you cannot work at night for health or safety reasons. If you do this, your employer MUST transfer you to a suitable alternative job or suspend you (if you have good reasons not to be able to work days then day time work may not be suitable and you should be suspended).

I asked my employer for a risk assessment but they refused. They said it didn’t apply to them because they only employ three people?

Employers who employ women of childbearing age have a duty to do a “general” health and safety assessment to identify risks to pregnant women.  The rules apply to ALL employers even if they only employ one person.  As soon as your employer has been informed in writing that you are pregnant (this can include a sick note for pregnancy-related illness), AND a risk arising from your work has been identified, a personal health and safety assessment must be done for you.

 I asked my employer for a risk assessment but they refused. They said that they didn’t think high temperatures were a particular risk and that I should go off sick.

The law recognises that high temperatures can be a risk to a pregnant woman. Discuss your concerns with your doctor or midwife and ask for a letter stating that your working conditions are a risk to you or your baby. You should not have to take sick leave because of a health and safety risk at work. Your employer must follow the steps above. If a risk remains, you have the right to suitable alternative work or, if none exists, to be suspended on full pay.

If you are forced to take sick leave and you only receive Statutory Sick Pay during that time, when you should have been suspended on full pay, you may be able to claim pregnancy discrimination as your employer is treating you unfavourably because of your pregnancy. You may also be entitled to claim full pay from your employer by making a claim for ‘unlawful deduction of wages’ in an Employment Tribunal. Also, if you are forced to take sick leave and you don’t receive full pay, you may lose all or most of your Statutory Maternity Pay (see ‘taking sick leave during pregnancy’ below).

If your employer refuses to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment see ‘What can I do to enforce my rights?’ below.

I work as a saleswoman, working very long hours and I travel all the time for work, but it is exhausting, what can I do?

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, your average working time should not be more than 48 hours in a seven-day period. You can ‘opt out’ and work longer hours if you agree to it. Under the Regulations you are also entitled to a 20 minute ‘rest break’ after working 6 hours and more breaks if the work is monotonous, which your work may well be. When you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have recently given birth, the law recognizes that travelling outside your workplace for work purposes is a possible health and safety risk. Discuss your concerns with your doctor or midwife and ask for a letter stating that your working conditions are a risk to you or your baby. Your employer must follow the steps set out above, for example, by considering whether the amount of travelling you do can be temporarily reduced and replaced with some office work (steps 3 and 4 above).

 I have an hour-long commute to get to work and have to be in at 8am. I think it may become too great a strain, what can I do?

Unfortunately, the Health and Safety rules do not apply to exhausting journeys to and from work. The “travelling” they refer to is only travelling which is part of the job itself. But you could ask your employer whether you can come in later, missing the rush hour, or leave earlier or whether you can temporarily reduce your hours. If you request a temporary reduction in hours and your employer refuses, you may have claims of indirect sex discrimination or ‘detriment’ (if you can show that you have suffered a disadvantage because of the employer’s refusal).

If you are considering making a tribunal claim you should seek legal advice and you must usually make your claim within 3 months (although this may be extended in exceptional circumstances).

Can I ask my employer to reduce my hours if I feel tired because of my pregnancy?

Yes, you can ask your employer to do this on a temporary basis or for a set period.  However, your maternity pay may be affected (see the question below on sick leave). If your working conditions are making you unwell, discuss your concerns with your doctor or midwife and ask for a letter stating that your working conditions are a risk to you or your baby. Your employer must carry out a risk assessment which could result in you working fewer hours without loss of pay which means your maternity pay will not be affected. If your employer will not carry out a risk assessment you may have a claim of discrimination or of detrimental treatment on the grounds of pregnancy.

If I take sick leave during my pregnancy, will this affect my Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)?

Yes, if you do not receive full pay from your employer when you are off sick and/or your earnings drop in approximately weeks 18 to 26 of your pregnancy, your SMP may be reduced.  Your SMP depends on what you actually receive during the calculation period.   If you only receive Statutory Sick Pay during this period you will not qualify for SMP, as you need to earn the lower earnings limit to qualify.  It may be better to use some annual leave during these weeks if your maternity pay is at risk.

Since becoming pregnant I get really exhausted after just a few hours at my job. Also, I don’t take my holiday leave as my employer doesn’t pay it, what can I do?

Firstly, if your work is a risk to your health or your baby, your employer must carry out a risk assessment and go through the steps above.

All employers must provide suitable facilities for a pregnant woman or nursing mother to rest under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, Reg 25.

The Code of Practice states that rest facilities should include the facility to lie down, so do ask your employer about providing this and make sure you are at the very least, taking the 20 minute rest break that you are entitled to after working 6 hours.

All workers are legally entitled to 28 days paid holiday a year (pro rata if you are part-time). If your employer does not give at least 5.6 weeks paid holiday a year, you can make a claim in an Employment Tribunal under the Working Time Regulations and you may get compensation. See below ‘What can I do to enforce my rights’ below

I am self employed but I work on contract at various places. Am I covered by the rights?

If you are self-employed you are only partly covered by these health and safety rules. At each place where you work, the person responsible for health and safety must carry out a risk assessment taking into account the particular risks to you as a new or expectant mother. They must then comply with the health and safety legislation about those risks (see steps 1 and 2 above). However, you do not have the automatic right to be offered different work or to be suspended but you could ask for alternative work if you are concerned. Note that it may be the case that you are actually an employee rather than a self employed person and, if so, you will benefit from the rights described above. If you are unsure whether you are an employee or self employed you should take further advice.

 My partner and I are planning to try for a baby, but we’re worried because he works with chemicals. Could it affect his sperm?

Possibly. The health and safety rights mentioned here only apply to women. But all employees are protected by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations which require the employer to make a written assessment of health risks from the chemicals, and then to tell the employees about any risks and what measures are being taken to protect the employees. Your partner should ask his trade union or safety representative for help in finding out what the risks are and what can be done about them. If he isn’t in a union, he should discuss his worries with his employer, the occupational health nurse or with the personnel department.

  I am a teacher and I’ve just found out that I’m pregnant. There has been an outbreak of rubella at my school – what are my rights?

If there is a risk of infection from rubella or any other infectious disease during the early months of your pregnancy, it is highly likely that the school will have to suspend you during the period of risk. You will get full pay at this time, provided you have not unreasonably refused to work at another school where there is no risk. You can only be suspended if the risk at work is greater than the risk at home.

I am a Flight Attendant and my employer has offered me ground work which is not as well paid – is this ‘suitable alternative work’?

The alternative work which you are entitled to must not be substantially less favourable in terms of the conditions on offer, including pay. If, for example, you lose a flight allowance then the position will not be ‘suitable’. If the terms and conditions on offer are the same as your usual work then the position is likely to be suitable and you cannot refuse it and ask to be suspended instead. If you think your terms and conditions are less favourable, then you may have a claim in an Employment Tribunal that you should have been suspended on your normal pay. See ‘What can I do to enforce my rights?’ below

What happens to my pay and other contractual rights if I’m suspended for health or safety reasons?

The law says that you must be paid your normal wages or salary during suspension, unless your employer offered you suitable alternative work and you ‘unreasonably’ refused to take the offer up. If your employer fails to pay you for any period during your suspension, you can make a claim to an Employment Tribunal (within 3 months). You continue to be employed during suspension, so all of your other contractual rights should continue and the period you are away counts towards continuous employment for seniority, pension rights, pay increments, holiday accrual etc.

If I’m suspended for health and safety reasons when do I start my maternity leave?

Normally it is up to you when you go on maternity leave, but if you are suspended for a pregnancy-related absence (including for health and safety reasons)  your employer has the right to insist you start maternity leave from four weeks before the week your baby is due. During maternity leave you will receive Statutory Maternity Pay if you are entitled to it. If the health and safety risk remains at the end of maternity leave, your suspension on full pay will start again at that point (provided this is within six months of the birth, or you are breastfeeding).

What can I do to enforce my rights

Always try to resolve the matter informally first – explain your concerns to your employer, and refer them to the HSE guidance if appropriate.  If the employer still doesn’t respond, you might consider raising a grievance.   If your employer refuses to carry out a risk assessment, fails to offer you a suitable alternative job, or fails to suspend you on full pay in the circumstances set out above,  you may be able to start a tribunal claim for pregnancy discrimination and/or unpaid wages (seek advice and act quickly, as a claim must be started within three months of the act of discrimination).

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