Following the announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their first child, we offer a brief reminder of the additional rights enjoyed by pregnant employees.
Absence due to morning sickness
Employees who are absent from work due to morning sickness should be subject to the employer's usual sickness absence rules and should be paid in accordance with the employer's sick pay policy. Other than protection from discrimination (see below), there are no special rules regarding absence due to morning sickness. However, where a pregnant employee is absent on sick leave because of her pregnancy during the last four weeks before her expected week of childbirth, this will automatically trigger the start of that employee's maternity leave.
Health and safety
On learning of an employee's pregnancy, an employer should carry out an individual health and safety assessment to determine whether the working environment poses any risks to the pregnant employee or unborn baby. If risks are identified, appropriate follow up action should be taken.
Pregnant employees, including part-time employees, have a right to paid time off to attend ante-natal appointments. This right can also extend to other pregnancy-related appointments arranged on medical advice.
Partners of pregnant women do not currently have a statutory right to attend ante-natal appointments, although the government has recently stated its intention to introduce legislation providing for such a right in the future. For more information please see our earlier update.
Pregnant employees are afforded specific protection under the Equality Act 2010 and care needs to be taken that they are not treated unfavourably because of their pregnancy, for example by receiving less paid sickness absence, being overlooked for promotion or not being offered particular opportunities such as overtime because the employer makes an assumption that they would not want the extra work/hassle whilst they are pregnant.
Other points to note
Once an employee has qualified for statutory maternity pay (SMP), she will remain entitled to receive SMP from her employer even if her employment is terminated and regardless of the reason for such termination.
Employers may be aware that an employee on maternity leave has a right to be offered any suitable available vacancy if her employer makes her redundant. However, the same right does not extend to a pregnant employee unless her maternity leave has already commenced.
Finally, employers should bear in mind that many of the protections afforded to pregnant employees also apply to employees who have recently given birth and the same considerations will therefore apply.