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Pregnancy and work

This guide for RCN members includes information for RCN members on when to inform your employer you are pregnant, risk assessment, rights to time off and sick leave during pregnancy.

Pregnancy and recruitment

You do not have to tell a prospective employer that you are pregnant. The fact that you are pregnant should not be taken into account when determining who gets the job. If it were taken into account it would be viewed as discrimination.

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When to tell your employer

Ensure you follow the correct procedure when notifying your employer of your pregnancy. You should not be subject to unfavourable treatment once you have done so.

Check your employer’s maternity policy for the exact notification requirements within your workplace. In general terms, you must tell your employer of your pregnancy no later than the qualifying week or as soon as is reasonably practicable. To give notice you should:

  • inform your employer that you are pregnant
  • inform your employer of the date of the expected week of childbirth
  • submit your MATB1 form which will confirm this date
  • inform your employer of the date you intend to start your leave and start receiving maternity pay.

This should be provided in writing.

Your employer must notify you of the end date of your maternity leave within 28 days of receiving this information. A default end date of 52 weeks after the start of your maternity leave is usually used. If you don’t give your employer the required notice for the start of your leave, you may lose your right to start your leave on your chosen date. Your employer is only required to make exceptions to this where it was not reasonably practicable for the notice to have been given any earlier. If you inform your employer early on, they should make arrangements for your entitlement to special health and safety rights. You will also be able to take advantage of your right to paid time off for antenatal care.

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Health and safety issues

All employers are required by law to assess risks to the health and safety of their employees whilst at work. We believe that an individual risk assessment should be carried out as soon as possible after you inform your employer of your pregnancy. These rights apply regardless of your length of service.

Identifying risk

Each pregnancy is different but there are similarities that are likely to affect all pregnant health care workers. For example, the employer should consider whether:

  • increasing physical size may affect ability to wear personal protective clothing
  • wearing closely fitted personal protective clothing may be uncomfortable during and after the pregnancy
  • changes in blood pressure may mean that there has to be a provision for more frequent and longer breaks
  • your role involves driving long distances as this may need to be reviewed.

This list is not exhaustive and the potential risks will be dependent on your role. Some risks, for example from chemicals and radiation, are already covered by specific health and safety legislation. Your employer should be aware of these.

Minimising risk

You have a right to be notified of the outcome of the risk assessment. Ask for this if it is not given to you. If your employer has identified a significant risk that could damage your health and safety they will need to decide what action to take. Your employer has a duty to reduce the level of risk so far as is reasonably practicable. If the risk cannot be reduced to a safe level then you have the right to be offered suitable alternative work. If there is no suitable alternative, you may be suspended on maternity grounds. You will receive your normal wages or salary for as long as the suspension lasts.

Night work

As a new or expectant mother, you must not be required to work at night if you have a medical certificate stating that night work could damage your health and safety, or that of your child. These rights apply regardless of your length of service or hours of work. The Health and Safety Executive (England, Scotland and Wales) and Health and Safety Executive of Northern Ireland has information for new and expectant mothers.

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Antenatal care and rights to time off

All pregnant women are entitled to reasonable paid time off for antenatal care appointments (including parent-craft and relaxation classes) made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, midwife or health visitor. This is regardless of your length of service for your employer. Your employer may request proof of the appointment, for example a letter or your appointment card. The amount of paid time off should include travelling time and waiting time at the hospital or clinic.

Partners do not have a general statutory right to paid time off for antenatal appointments. There may be allowance for paid leave in an employee’s contract or local maternity/ paternity policy. If there is no allowance within the contract, the partner of a pregnant woman will be entitled to take unpaid time off work to accompany the woman to up to two antenatal appointments (with an allowance of 6.5 hours for each appointment).

“Partner” includes the spouse or civil partner of the pregnant woman and a person (of either sex) in a long-term relationship with her. It also extends to those who will become parents through a surrogacy arrangement, under certain circumstances. 

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In-vitro fertilisation/fertility treatment

There is no automatic right to paid time off for in-vitro fertilisation/fertility treatment. When responding to a request for time off for treatment, the employer must not treat you any worse than they would treat another employee of the opposite sex making an equivalent request for time off.

You may need to take sick leave to deal with side effects, or take annual or unpaid leave for treatment appointments. You should check your employer’s leave policies for any specific provision for fertility treatment. Managers should be sympathetic when dealing with this sensitive area.

The advanced stage of IVF treatment is between the retrieval of the ova followed by the immediate transfer of the fertilized ova.  If you take sick leave during the advanced stage in your IVF treatment and are dismissed, you may be able to claim direct sex discrimination.  

Once an embryo has been implanted you are legally pregnant, therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010. If the treatment is successful and you remain pregnant, you will be protected against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy until the end of your maternity leave.

If the treatment is unsuccessful, protection will end two weeks after the end of the pregnancy - a pregnancy test is taken two weeks after implantation and if the test is negative, the protected period extends for two more weeks.  

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Sickness during pregnancy

If you fall ill during your pregnancy it is important for you and your employer to determine whether this sickness is ‘pregnancy-related’. The distinction is important because detrimental treatment due to pregnancy-related sickness absence may be discriminatory.

Any pregnancy-related sickness absence must be recorded separately to normal sickness absence. It should not be used for disciplinary or redundancy purposes or considered under absence management procedures.

If you are off sick for a pregnancy-related reason in the four weeks before the EWC then your employer could require you to start your maternity leave at this point (on the day after the first day of absence within this four week period). If you qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance (MA) and additional contractual pay, this will also start automatically. Occasional days of pregnancy-related illness may be disregarded at the employer’s discretion if the employee wishes to defer the start of her maternity leave period.

All sickness which is not pregnancy related should be treated the same as any other sickness. If the sickness is unrelated to your pregnancy, you will normally be able to take sick leave until you start your maternity leave on the day notified to your employer. In these circumstances, you will normally receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or contractual sick pay right up to the date of your baby’s birth, or until the date you have notified as the date you intended your maternity leave to start.

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Stillbirth or miscarriage

If a stillbirth or miscarriage occurs after the 24th week of pregnancy, your rights to leave and Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance (MA) are not affected. This is also the case should a baby be born alive for only a very short period of time.

If a stillbirth or miscarriage occurs before this week you will not be entitled to statutory maternity leave or SMP/MA and your absence should be treated in the same way as sick leave. There should be some protection for sickness absence following a stillbirth/miscarriage before the 24th week of pregnancy as this can be classed as pregnancy related sickness absence.

Check your contract of employment for details of any entitlements above the statutory minimum outlined above. Miscarriage or stillbirth can be life-changing events. Remember, as an RCN member you can use our Counselling service for free, confidential support through challenging times. 

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Need more advice?

Call RCN Direct on: 0345 772 6100