As an employee or worker, you are protected against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy at the point you become pregnant. This protected period runs until the end of maternity leave. However, many of the rights available to pregnant employees at work are dependent on you informing your employer that you are pregnant.
Your employer is under a duty to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to health and safety which you are exposed to while at work. An employer that employs any women of child-bearing age to do work of a kind that could involve risk to the health and safety of a new or expectant mother or her baby from any processes, working conditions or physical, chemical or biological agents, must include an assessment of those risks in its risk assessment. The employer should not wait until an employee becomes pregnant before it carries out this assessment. Where an employer has identified risks as the result of a risk assessment, it does not have any specific obligation to take action to avoid those risks until it has been notified in writing that an employee is pregnant.
Once the employer has been notified in writing of your pregnancy the employer is under an obligation to do all that is reasonable to remove or prevent exposure to any significant risk that has been found, and must give information to you about the risk and what action has been taken. Unless the risk can be avoided through other action, the employer must temporarily alter your working conditions or hours of work, if this is reasonable and would avoid the risk. If it is not reasonable to alter your working conditions or hours of work, or if the risk cannot be avoided, the employer must offer you suitable alternative work. If there is no suitable alternative work available, or if you have a valid reason to refuse it, the employer must suspend you for as long as is necessary to avoid the risk. Whilst you are suspended on maternity grounds you are entitled to paid remuneration.
As a pregnant employee you have a statutory right to paid time off during working hours “for the purpose of receiving antenatal care”, regardless of hours worked or length of service. Antenatal care is not defined by legislation. According to government guidance, antenatal care is not restricted to medical examinations and can include relaxation classes and parentcraft classes, provided that these are recommended by a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered health visitor.
There are no formalities for exercising the right. You should simply inform your employer of the date and time of the appointment. Ideally, as much notice as possible should be given, as it may be reasonable for your employer to refuse a request. With the exception of the first appointment (presumably because you will not have evidence of pregnancy until after that appointment), the employer is entitled to ask for evidence of antenatal appointments. It is generally accepted that the amount of time off includes travel to and from the appointment.
Your partner does not currently have a legal right to time off to accompany you to antenatal appointments. However, the government guidance encourages employers to allow this wherever practicable. Furthermore legislation currently going through Parliament contains provisions which will enable certain employees to take unpaid time off to attend a certain number of ante-natal appointments with a pregnant employee.
If you are treated unfavourably because of a pregnancy-related illness, this will constitute unlawful pregnancy and maternity discrimination and any dismissal will be automatically unfair. Any pregnancy-related absence or maternity leave absence should therefore be ignored in respect of any promotion decision or the assessment of any other benefits at any stage of your employment.
If you are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) you will start receiving payments 11 weeks before the expected week of confinement (EWC) unless you notify your employer of a later date. This can be as late in the pregnancy as you choose but in some circumstances SMP will start earlier. The most common of these is if the baby is born earlier or if you are absent from work wholly or partly because of pregnancy on any day falling on or after the beginning of the fourth week before the EWC, the SMP period will start on the day after that date.
Women not entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay may be eligible for Maternity Allowance which is a social security benefit paid by Jobcentre Plus. For further information, including conditions of eligibility, see “A guide to Maternity Benefits: Maternity Allowance”.
Regardless of your length of service, if you are dismissed whilst pregnant you are entitled to receive written reasons for your dismissal without having to request them.
It is automatically unfair to dismiss you or select you for redundancy due to pregnancy. There is no minimum qualifying service period.