Most women continue working while pregnant or return to work whilst still breastfeeding, and there is little reason why being pregnant or having young children should stop women from continuing their employment. In order to facilitate this, workplaces are obliged to take action to ensure that these women are not exposed to any significant health risks whilst at work.
The Health and Safety Executive provides information on new and expectant mothers who work, including links to legislation on health and safety regulations, and the Equality Act. Every employer has a duty to make a suitable and sufficient general written assessment of the health and safety risks its employees are exposed to whilst at work, including those who, in the future, could become expectant mothers. This means that any significant risks to unborn children and expectant mothers should be identified, even from the early stages.
Pregnancy risk assessment
On receiving written notification of a pregnancy, a specific assessment of the workplace must be undertaken – conditions that may have been acceptable prior to pregnancy may no longer be suitable during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding. The assessment will vary greatly depending on the type of workplace and the kind of work the employee is involved in. Employers will then be required to regularly monitor and review any assessment carried out to take into account possible risks that may occur at different stages of pregnancy. See our guide on new and expectant mothers at work for more information, which includes a sample pregnancy risk assessment.
Removing or reducing risks found
Employers are obliged to attempt to remove any risks that have been highlighted by the risk assessment, and expectant mothers must be given information on the risks found and the protective measures to be taken. Some steps that may be taken include:
- possibly reducing hours to minimise stress;
- agreeing to more frequent rest breaks;
- excluding heavy lifting or long periods of standing up;
If risks still remain, employers will need to alter working conditions or hours of work if it is reasonable to do so and would avoid the risk. If this is not possible, or risk cannot be avoided, employees should be offered a suitable, alternative job. If this is not possible either, the employee should be suspended on full pay for as long as is necessary to avoid exposure to the assessed risks. Employees who have unreasonably refused alternative work would lose the right to full pay during their suspension.
It is generally accepted that work can improve a person’s physical and mental health, and that being out of work for long periods can be damaging to a person’s health and wellbeing. For this reason, Fit for Work offers a whole host of resources as part of its advice service about work-related health topics in the form of guides on the advice hub, blogs, ‘ask a question’ and ‘live chat’ (a form of instant messaging). The referral service, which connects those who are employed and who have been, or are likely to be, off work for four weeks or longer with an occupational health professional, is free and voluntary and culminates in a personalised Return to Work Plan.