How can employers secure the welfare and wellbeing of pregnant employees?

David Price discusses the considerations small companies must make to accommodate the needs of pregnant employees.

There are four main legal rights for pregnant employees that an employer must adhere to. The employee must have paid time off for antenatal care, legal entitlement to maternity leave, right to maternity pay or maternity allowance and protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal. However there are also number of other health and safety and wellbeing factors that employers must consider while an employee is pregnant and are imperative for protecting the health and wellbeing of both mother and child.

Minimising risk

At the first opportunity you are made aware of the pregnancy, it is advisable to complete a Health and Safety Risk Assessment of working conditions for the expectant mother. If risks are identified, then employers should talk immediate action to reduce, remove or control the level of risk, in order to protect the unborn child and expectant mother. These should be reviewed regularly to take into account the changing factors in the pregnancy as it progresses.

As there are several aspects within the work environment that could be considered a risk, assessments should incorporate physical elements in the working environment from movement and posture, manual handling, noise, vibrations, radiation, air, mining, infectious diseases toxic chemicals, mercury, cytotoxic drugs, pesticides, carbon monoxides lead. But also stress and workload, travelling to and from work and any symptoms presented in the pregnancy which could cause problems in the workplace. 

Making adjustments

An employer should, where possible, always look to make reasonable adjustments to the working environment, including hours and workload, to support the mother during this period in relation to any factors that may be raised. Regular welfare meetings/catch ups should be implemented to encourage the expectant mother to raise any concerns or issues she is experiencing at the earliest opportunity. The opportunity to do this should be made transparent from the beginning of the pregnancy.

An employer may also need to take into account confidentiality if the disclosure is prior to them announcing the news to other employee’s but whilst ensuring they are protected. Regular work station assessments and review of equipment may be necessary as well as considerations relating to fatigue breaks and travelling to and from work.

Health factors

The nature of being pregnant may make the expectant mother more vulnerable to emotional factors such as workplace stress, demands of clients or other emotional situations that may routinely occur in the workplace. Employers should ensure that these factors are evaluated and the welfare of the mother is put first, followed by the demands and expectations of customers/clients.

Certain physical symptoms and illness are a natural result of being pregnant and an employer where possible should try to be sympathetic and supportive towards these. It may be deemed discrimination to provide usual disciplinary action or removal of staff benefits should the pregnant employee trigger on an absence management procedure or fail to perform standards of work as usual because of the pregnancy. As an alternative, a welfare approach should be adopted to look at what, if anything the employer can do to remain supportive during this period.

David Price is managing director of Health Assured.

Further reading on pregnant staff

David Price

David Price

David Price is CEO of Health Assured, a part of the Peninsula Group.

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