Protection of female workers continues to be a topical problem, especially in a retail sector where women account for a considerable share of the total workforce. Workers who combine their paid employment with parental functions enjoy a number of entitlements. Most of such entitlements pertain to both employed women and employed men, e.g. parental or child-care leave. Additionally, women are subject to protection against excessively strenuous working conditions throughout their entire working life, which is further strengthened during the period of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The Polish Labour Code was amended in 2016 by replacing the general prohibition of the employment of women in strenuous and harmful work with the prohibition that is applicable only to expectant and breastfeeding women. Work which is strenuous, dangerous or harmful and which can have adverse effects on the health of an expectant or breastfeeding woman, the course of pregnancy or breastfeeding falls under the scope of this restriction. The old regulations are to remain in force until the new implementing provisions are issued, at the latest until 3 May 2017. On 24 February 2017, the Council of Ministers published a draft of the new Implementing Regulation, which was amended following the consultations. The new Regulation is proposed to enter into force on 1 May 2017.
Changes Applicable to Expectant and Breastfeeding Women
In relation to the current Regulation that dates back to 1996, the draft introduces, among others, the following changes:
- A list of particularly strenuous, dangerous or harmful work operations will only pertain to women who are expectant or breastfeeding.
- The permissible energy expenditure levels due to lifting and carrying, the limits of loads to be lifted and carried and the physical strength necessary to move loads are increased for breastfeeding women.
- Prohibition of working in a standing position for more than three hours has been fine-tuned, i.e. below the said limit a standing position for an expectant woman shall not exceed 15 minutes at a time, and it shall be followed by a 15-minute rest break period.
- Expectant women who are permanent workers are prohibited from manual lifting of loads, and those who are temporary workers may not lift loads with mass of more than one kilogram.
- Expectant women are allowed to work with display screens provided that a minimum of a 10-minute rest break period for each 50 minutes worked is ensured. The rest periods shall count as work time and the total work time per day shall not exceed eight hours – replacing the currently binding limitations set at four hours per day at a maximum.
- The draft lifts the ban applicable to breastfeeding women on the forced position and on a standing position for more than three hours during a shift, while the scope of work tasks which should not be performed by breastfeeding women now includes the handling of liquid materials – hot, corrosive or having adverse effects on health.
It is further planned to amend the Regulation of the Minister of Labour and Social Policy of 14 March 2000 on occupational safety and health during manual handling. Its scope is set to include all workers (women and men) except for young workers, expectant and breastfeeding women. Quite a number of limits currently applicable in general to female workers have been transferred to the draft amendment. Other special limits for both men and women will be subject to amendment, as well. Amendments to this Regulation are also foreseen to enter into force on 1 May 2017.
Interim provisions are not included in the draft Regulation laying down a list of work operations which are strenuous, dangerous or harmful to health of expectant or breastfeeding women, nor in the draft amendments to the Regulation on occupational safety and health during manual handling. For this reason, employers will have to comply with new regulations as of the moment they come into force. Furthermore, employers should review their internal rules, in particular their Work Regulations to bring them in line with the new provisions.