We have teamed up with YESS (Your Employment Settlement Service) a Charity that provides employment law advice with a view to avoiding conflict at work and resolving disputes. They have agreed to give our members up to 30 minutes free advice over the phone on employment issues arising out of pregnancy, maternity, shared parental leave and flexible working.

How to apply
Pregnant or on maternity leave?
Your rights in a nutshell and 12 top tips

While the law provides strong protection against pregnancy/maternity discrimination, it is not easy to enforce when pregnant or on leave.

Note that where your baby was due on or after 5 April 2015 you can, if eligible, transfer some of your maternity leave and pay to your partner so that either or both of you can take shared parental leave. The main advantage is that you and your partner can share the leave and you can take leave three separate chunks, working in between. For more information click here.

Below is a brief overview of your rights and protection while pregnant or on maternity leave; take advice if in doubt.

Your rights to leave and time off
  • Reasonable paid time off for ante-natal appointments;
  • Health and safety protection for you and your baby;
  • Maternity leave of up to a year;
  • Statutory maternity pay (SMP) for 39 weeks;
  • Contractual rights, including pension contributions, during maternity leave;
  • The right to return to the same or similar job;
  • Preference for suitable available work if redundant during maternity leave;
  • Protection from dismissal/detriment because of pregnancy/maternity leave.

Some of the above are conditional on complying with service requirements (eg SMP) and notice provisions, which you should check.

Protection from discrimination

Any unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy, pregnancy related sickness or maternity leave is unlawful – except that you are only entitled to statutory maternity pay during leave.

Unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy or leave includes
  • Dismissal including redundancy or any other disadvantage,
  • Denial of the right to return to the same job after leave,
  • Being passed over for promotion,
  • Removal of responsibilities,
  • Harassment, such as unwanted jokes being made about pregnancy,
  • Failure to carry out an appraisal,
  • Failure to make adjustments where necessary to protect you/your baby,
  • Lack of consultation about redundancies, re-organisation or new jobs,
  • Denial of a bonus because you are pregnant.

Your employer may need to treat you more favourably in order to redress any disadvantage you experience because of being pregnant or on maternity leave.

12 top tips for protecting your job

Some women want to return to the same job on the same terms, some to vary their working hours (in the same job) and others to leave altogether. Below are some tips which assume a wish to return to the same or similar job.

  • Tell your employer you are pregnant as soon as you feel able
    You are only protected from discrimination if your employer knows you are pregnant. The risk is that your employer might guess (and then deny it) because you have more medical appointments, have stopped drinking or the friend you told gossiped.

There may be exceptions, for example if you are still in your probationary period and think you may not pass it; it depends on the circumstances.
  • If you have pregnancy related sickness tell your employer
    If you are off sick or your work suffers because of pregnancy related sickness, you may be marked down in your appraisal, denied training or promotion etc. If your employer is aware that the sickness is related to your pregnancy you should not be disadvantaged in this way.
  • Ask your employer for a risk assessment
    If you are concerned about the effect of your working conditions on your or your baby’s health, for example because your job involves a lot of standing or travelling, you should ask for a risk assessment to be done and for adjustments to be made. This would include removing the risk (eg the standing/travelling), or if this is not possible moving you to a different job for the duration of your pregnancy and if not possible, suspending you on full pay.
  • Continue with the same work unless you agree otherwise
    There is a risk that if responsibilities are taken away from you when pregnant you may later be disadvantaged in a redundancy exercise, a bonus award or a pay rise – even though any unfavourable treatment because of your pregnancy or pregnancy related sickness is unlawful. Generally, you should not have to hand over your work until just before you start your maternity leave.
  • Get involved in planning your maternity cover
    The aim should be to provide effective cover, so your job does not disappear, while ensuring that you can return to it at the end of your leave. If possible, avoid appointing a permanent replacement, even if the plan (initially at least) is that the person will move to a different role on your return; often this does not happen.
  • Make it clear you are intending to return to the same job
    It is common for a woman to be made redundant during her leave or on her return – e.g. because the work has been re-organised amongst existing employees or her maternity locum has been retained in her job. This is less likely to happen if you plan the maternity cover, make it clear you intend to return to the same job and keep in touch with work during your maternity leave. If your job is changed on your return because of your absence this would be discrimination.
  • Retain some form of communication during your leave and ask for details of changes
    If you keep in touch it is more difficult for your employer to make changes, which impact on your job, without consulting you. If you want to have contact, make this clear (preferably in writing) before you go on maternity leave.
    If you do not want receive emails, perhaps ask for minutes of office meetings, to be informed of any changes at work and any jobs coming up. It will depend on your job and what contact you want. Your employer should inform you of changes but some employers wrongly assume that no contact should be made.
  • Take advantage of KIT (keeping in touch) days, if possible
    It is your choice whether to work KIT days during leave. Your employer cannot force you to work if you do not want to do so. If you do some, you will be able to find out about changes, your role, new jobs, any re-organisation. Knowledge of changes or potential changes will give you the chance of influencing them.
  • If you are made redundant during maternity leave
    You are entitled to be offered any suitable available job in preference to other redundant employees if you are made redundant during your maternity leave. If you want to remain employed, make it clear you want to be considered for any job, whether with your existing employer or any associated employer.
    Although your employer is obliged to search for an alternative role, many do not. There is an ACAS guide for employers ‘Managing redundancy for pregnant employees or those on maternity leave’, which you may want to read and show to your employer.
    If you want to be made redundant, but are offered a suitable job, you may not get a redundancy package if that is what you want.
  • If you want to request flexible working, do so 3 months before your return
    On 30 June 2014 a new procedure was introduced for requesting flexible working. If possible it is best to make a request as early as you can so that you get the decision before you are due to return to work and, your request is considered before other employees seeking a similar working pattern (such as a 4-day week). If the employer refuses your request, this may be indirect sex discrimination.
  • Keep a record if you think you are being treated unfavourably
    If things go wrong it is best to have a contemporaneous note of everything that happened and to keep emails.  The conversation you had with your boss 3 months ago will soon be forgotten; if you need to show that you have suffered discrimination because of your pregnancy or maternity leave, that note might make all the difference if you are negotiating an exit package.
  • If treated unfavourably consider what you want to achieve
    Some employees feel they cannot continue to work for their employer; others cannot afford to be out of a job. Consider whether you want to stay or go and how best to negotiate what you want; it will depend on your aim. If in doubt take advice. YESS can help advise you about your rights and how to achieve your aims and objectives.

The information provided in this article is a brief overview only and is not intended to be a substitute for proper legal advice