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What are my rights as a pregnant woman in the workplace?

28 March 2019
Richard Lozano

Have you recently found out that you are expecting your first child and are unaware of your rights as a pregnant woman? Discovering you are pregnant can be an exciting and worrying time so knowing your rights in these circumstances can help to put you at ease, to know your entitlements and to know what your employer is legally obliged to do to protect you and help you to prepare things ahead of your new arrival.

A mother who recently contacted the BBC after they published an article about greater rights for pregnant women at work, has spoken out about her own employment troubles….

"I was made redundant four months into my maternity leave.

"I was the bread winner, I had no legal cover and so was advised to sign a 'hush agreement', I felt I had no choice."

Her story - and those of many others - suggests that discrimination continues at some of Britain's companies where senior managers flout the law to put pressure on women who become pregnant.

But many victims are too scared to speak out about the discrimination they have been subjected to and quite often are forced to sign non- disclosure agreements to prevent them posing a threat to their employer.

So, what are your rights as a pregnant woman in the workplace?

Pregnancy and Discrimination at work

If an employer treats you unfairly because you're pregnant or because you've recently had a baby, you may have been discriminated against. Pregnancy discrimination is a type of employment discrimination that occurs when expectant women are dismissed, not hired, or otherwise discriminated against due to their pregnancy or their intention to become pregnant. The Equality Act 2010 calls this pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

It’s unlawful to discriminate against you because:

-you’re pregnant, or

-because of a pregnancy-related illness or absence.

The protection against discrimination lasts for a specific period of time which starts when you become pregnant. This is called the protected period.

If you have the right to maternity leave, the protected period ends when your maternity leave ends or when you return to work, if this is earlier. All employees have the right to take maternity leave.

If you don’t have the right to maternity leave - for example, because you’re not an employee, the protected period ends two weeks after your child was born.

If you’re treated unfavourably after this, you could still be protected against discrimination because of your sex.

Once you’ve given birth, it’s also unlawful to discriminate against you for one of these reasons:

-you’re on maternity leave

-you’ve been on maternity leave

-you’ve tried to take maternity leave which you’re entitled to.

When should you inform your employer of pregnancy?

This is called the notification week. You can work this out by going to the Sunday before your due date and counting back another 15 weeks. However, you'll probably want to tell your employer that you're pregnant before then so that you can take time off for antenatal appointments

Can you dismiss a pregnant woman?

It would always amount to an unfair dismissal to dismiss a woman because of her pregnancy and an act of discrimination. Whilst there will usually be no obvious evidence that pregnancy was the reason for the dismissal, an Employment Tribunal can draw inferences of unfairness or discrimination from the circumstances giving rise to the dismissal and the timing of it.

How long do you have to work for a company to get maternity leave?

Statutory maternity pay (SMP) is a weekly payment from your employer, you will only be entitled to claim this if: you’ve been working for the same employer for at least 26 weeks without a break. You can measure these 26 weeks against the end of the 15th week before the week your baby is due.

If you would like more information about your employment rights or require any other specialist employment advice please do not hesitate to contact Richard Lozano, employment Solicitor on 01302 341414 or alternatively you can email richard.l@taylorbracewell.co.uk