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Maternity and pregnancy in employment – then and now

Updated: Feb 16

When my mother and mother-in-law were pregnant all those years ago, they both knew that it meant they were either kicked out of college or risked being fired as they had little legal protection.

Fast forward to the current day and how would these two women have fared in today’s learning and work environments?

Maternity in Learning

Let’s take the example of my mother-in-law who was training to be a nurse at college and, when she told her tutor about being pregnant, was summarily dismissed from her course.

Today, education providers are legally obliged to undertake risk assessments to protect pregnant learners. Being removed from a course because of pregnancy could be seen as sex discrimination in provision of a public service.

A modern day version of this is when my wife was pregnant with our first child during her last teacher training placement. Her university undertook more risk assessments, moved placements to be closer to home and offered her a chance to delay her placement if she felt it was best for her. This focus on support rather than punishment shows how times have changed.

Maternity in the Work Place

So is the work place as maternity-conscious as the education setting? My mother could have been fired for being pregnant with no legal recourse. Today, we have the Equality Act 2010 which confirms the legal rights of expectant mothers to no less favourable treatment in the workplace and also places a legal duty on employers to ensure they are safe in the workplace.

But is this a happy ending?

Redundancy for Pregnant Employees

Although pregnant workers can be made redundant, they have additional legal rights and any redundancy that infringes these rights could lead to a claim of unfair dismissal due to direct sex discrimination (with uncapped awards).

What are the Additional rights?

Those on Maternity Leave, be it the Ordinary or Additional variety, have the right to priority if a suitable job is available. This can be a key factor in administering redundancies that are about reducing numbers in a team, not closing an entire section or team down.

Another factor to remember is that if you are using selection criteria, you may need to look at them closely. For example, if using absence figures as part of the scoring, you will need to remove any pregnancy-related absences as not doing so could lead to a claim of unfair selection due to pregnancy.

The rradar ARC team can help you every step of the way to ensure you make sound business decisions and do not fall foul of the law.

Health and Safety for pregnant employees

So you get a MAT B1 form confirming your employee is pregnant. You understand the HR and employment law issues but is there something you are forgetting?

Health and safety law states that an employer has a duty to ensure all employees are safe in the work place and it is no different for pregnant employees.

When an employee informs their employer they are pregnant, a new risk assessment needs to be completed. This Pregnant Employee risk assessment needs to take into account the changing nature of the risks the employee faces such as not being able to work in hot areas or stand for long periods of time. Many organisations fall down in this area as they do not consult with the employee and either ignore the risks or force a change of role without medical opinion. Both of these can create a poor working environment and also risk Employment Law claims of unfair treatment due to pregnancy.

So what do you need to do if an employee reports they are pregnant? I would suggest a Pregnant Worker Risk Assessment straight away and keep the communication lines with the employee open at all times. Full guidance on both the Employment Law and Health and Safety law can be gained for rradar members by contacting the ARC team.

So yes, times have changed and the law now offers a lot more protection for pregnant workers. With the current media focus on the issue, more employees will know their rights so make sure you champion them in the workplace and become an organisation which understands that your next generation of employees need your protection today.

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