when an employee says they are pregnant?
What to do when an employee says they are pregnant?
By Karen Bexley Partner – Employment Law – MLP Law
Women make up nearly half of the workforce in the UK and more than 75% will become mothers during their working life. In the UK the average age of motherhood is approximately 29, so most working women over this age will be parents and it is therefore crucial that as an employer, you know what to do when an employee tells you that they are pregnant.
It is important to remember as an employer that having a baby is a huge step for an individual, particularly if it is their first child. You should therefore make an effort to congratulate your employee and give their colleagues time to do the same before getting into the nitty gritty surrounding employment rights.
Remind the employee of their obligations
Once you have congratulated your employee, it is important that you remind them or inform them of their obligations in order to ensure a smooth transition. It might be useful to arrange an initial meeting to go through everything and ask the employee to provide you with any specific advice they have received from their doctor or midwife regarding the health and safety of them and/or the baby. It is also crucial to ensure that the employee is aware that they must provide you with the following key dates:
– Baby’s due date/expected week of childbirth;
– Dates of antenatal appointments;
– Provisional dates for maternity leave;
– Provisional dates of return to work following maternity leave.
The majority of the above dates will of course be provisional, as babies do not tend to follow a timetable. However, the employee should be informed and be aware that they are under an obligation to keep you updated throughout the pregnancy and should give you 28 days’ notice, or mutually agree a new date if they wish to change the start date of their maternity.
Following the initial meeting and subject to any information that the employee has received from their doctor or midwife, the next step is to carry out a risk assessment. Once an employee is pregnant, you need to properly consider whether any of the duties they are currently carrying out pose a risk to them or their unborn baby. If there are any risks, such as heavy lifting for example, as an employer you should take reasonable steps to remove these risks.
If you cannot remove the risks, then you should offer suitable alternative employment within the company where there is no longer a risk. If you cannot offer suitable alternative employment within the company and there are tangible risks to the employee that cannot be avoided, then the employee should be suspended from duties on full pay.
Educate yourself on your employees four key legal entitlements:
Pregnant employees have four key legal entitlements within their pregnancy and it is absolutely crucial that you are aware of these fundamental entitlements in order to ensure that you are not treating a pregnant employee unfairly or even breaking the law.
1. Paid time off for antenatal care:
It is illegal for employers to refuse to give pregnant employees time off for antenatal care or antenatal/parenting classes if these have been recommended by a doctor or midwife or to refuse to pay them their normal rate for this time off. This is why it is so important that you are kept up to date by the pregnant employee regarding dates of any appointments so you can ensure they are fully paid for this time off.
2. Maternity leave:
Pregnant employees are entitled to maternity leave for up to 52 weeks. The first 26 weeks are known as ‘ordinary maternity leave’ and the last 26 weeks are ‘additional maternity leave.’ In terms of when this leave can be taken, the earliest leave can be taken is 11 weeks before the expected due date and employees must take at least 2 weeks’ maternity leave after the birth (or 4 weeks if they are a factory worker).
3. Maternity pay:
Pregnant employees are usually entitled to some income during maternity leave. Depending on their length of service and rate of pay, employees could receive up to 39 weeks’ maternity pay, either as statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance and possibly also contractual maternity pay. Employees must inform you when they want to start their statutory maternity leave and pay.
4. Protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal:
Arguably the most important entitlement that a pregnant employee has, is protection against unfair treatment or dismissal due to her pregnancy or maternity leave. Depending on the length of their maternity leave, the employee has the right to return to their original job or a suitable alternative when they return from maternity leave. There are also specific requirements regarding making an employee on maternity leave redundant.
If you fail to allow the employee the right to these entitlements or treat the employee unfairly due to the fact that they are pregnant, then you are likely to leave yourself vulnerable to potential employment law claims including discrimination.
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