In Great Britain, around 440,000 women each year continue to work during their pregnancy and approximately two-thirds return to work soon after giving birth. Almost half of these women experience some form of disadvantage at work because they are pregnant or take maternity leave.
Pregnancy is not an illness. Therefore, women should not be signed off sick simply because they are pregnant. Instead, they should be offered a change in working conditions or suitable alternative work. Employers have a legal and moral duty to protect women of childbearing age from hazards and risks in the workplace. In workplaces, some risks can affect the health and safety of new and expectant mothers and that of their child. Working conditions which are usually considered to be acceptable may no longer be suitable during pregnancy and/or for breastfeeding.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires employers to secure the health (including mental health), safety and welfare of employees at work. This includes providing a safe place of work, safe systems of work, and information and training.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (as amended) require suitable and sufficient assessments of health and safety risks at work to be carried out this includes employers protecting the health and safety of new and expectant mothers from work related ill health.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require employers to provide adequate welfare facilities for new or expectant mothers. The Equality Act 2010 also provides legal defence against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy.
The law places duties on the employers to assess risks posed to new or expectant mothers and, where necessary, to take action to safeguard their health and safety, including health surveillance, if appropriate. This could be achieved by carrying out a comprehensive risk assessment. Employers must:
- identify all the possible hazards
- make sure that exposure to hazards is adequately controlled
- put in place appropriate control measures which are properly maintained
- monitor exposure in the workplace and carry out health surveillance, if required
- provide information, instruction and training to new or expectant mothers.
Education for employees
Leaflets and information:
- A guide for new and expectant mothers who work - produced by the Health and Safety Executive
- Pregnancy and work: what you need to know as an employee - a guide from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
- Physical and shift work in pregnancy: Occupational aspects of management - an evidence based guidance for employees from Royal College of Physicians
- Working safely with ionising radiation: guidelines for expectant or breastfeeding mothers - a leaflet for women who are thinking of having a baby or already pregnant or breastfeeding, providing advice on the risks associated with exposure to ionising radiation in the workplace
- Equality Act 2010: guidance for employees from the Equality and Human Rights Commission
- Pregnant employees’ rights - detailed information for pregnant workers from GOV.UK
- Maternity entitlements and responsibilities - a guide for employees from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
- New and expectant mothers - answers to frequently asked questions from the HSE
- Information on Maternity leave from GOV.UK
- Maternity pay entitlement tool from GOV.UK
- Paternity leave - information from GOV.UK
- The pregnancy care planner - NHS guide to having a baby
- Maternity rights - information from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
- Answers to FAQs on postnatal depression from Mind
- Your pregnancy calendar - facts, advice and tips from Tommy’s on how to make the most of your pregnancy at every stage
- Your health and safety in pregnancy - information from the Baby Centre
Education for employers
Leaflets and information:
- Pregnancy and work: what you need to know as an employee - a guide to employees’ rights in their workplace from Gov UK
- New and expectant mothers - a health and safety guide for health professionals from the HSE
- Physical and shift work in pregnancy: Occupational aspects of management - an evidence based guidance for employers from Royal College of Physicians
- HSE’s Good health is good business: employers’ guide
- A factsheet including gender issues in risk assessments from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
- Managing sickness absence and return to work in small businesses - advice from the HSE
- Health at work - an independent review of sickness absence from the Department for Work and Pension
- Managing attendance and employee turnover advice from ACAS
- Equality Act 2010 a guide for employers from EHRC
- Maternity rights - a guide for employers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
- Statutory maternity pay and leave - a step-by-step guide for employers from GOV.UK
- Answers to FAQs on maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay from CIPD
- Statement of fitness for work - fit note from Department for Work and Pension
- Case study on pregnancy at work from Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
Getting more help
The organisations listed below offer help and advice.
- Health for Work Adviceline is a free service to help you quickly and effectively address the issue of employee ill health, minimise the impact of staff illness, and provide essential support to staff with physical or mental health issues
- Health and Safety Executive provides access to workplace health and safety information, guidance and expert advice
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission acts as a source of information and advice and tackles discrimination at various levels
- Department for Business, Innovation and Skills provides information about maternity and paternity leave and pay
- GOV.UK provides information on pregnancy and maternity rights
- The Family and Parenting Institute supports families in order to make society more family-friendly and promote wellbeing at work
- The Fatherhood Institute provides information for working fathers about current legislation, wellbeing and work life balance
- Maternity Action has information sheets for mothers and fathers on their rights at work
- Tommy’s promotes the health and wellbeing of working mothers