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Expectant mothers

Expectant mothers

Contents

Your legal responsibility

During your general assessment of the health and safety risks that your employees are exposed to, you must think about any specific risks posed to employees of childbearing age who could become pregnant. You shouldn't wait for an employee to fall pregnant: in many cases they won't know that they are until a few weeks into the pregnancy. A range of hazards, as mentioned below, can have a detrimental effect not only on the development of the unborn child, but also on the employee's ability to concieve in the first place.

If you identify any such risks, they should be removed or reduced where possible. Inform the relevant employees of any risks identified (or that none have been). Either way, tell relevant employees that they need to inform the business as early as possible if they are pregnant, have given birth in the last 6 months or are breastfeeding.You can also ask for a certificate from your employee's GP or midwife confirming her pregnancy.

What law applies?

  • Section 16 to 18 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, or, in Northern Ireland, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000.

Risk assessments

The risk assessment you carry out should follow the The 5-step approach to risk assessments as recommended by the Health and Safety Executive. You should make sure that your assessment takes into account female employees who in the future could be expectant mothers.

When you get a written notice from a worker that she is pregnant, has given birth in the last 6 months or is breastfeeding, you need to carry out a specific risk assessment. During the assessment, you should consider any advice given by her health professional. You must establish if the risks relevant to the specific individual employee can be removed. If they can't, then consider adjusting the employee's working conditions, hours of work or maybe give her suitable alternative work that will avoid her being exposed to the identified risks. If none of these options are reasonably possible then she would need to be suspended on paid leave for as long as necessary to protect her health and safety.

Hazards to new and expectant mothers

Physical hazards include:

  • Awkward spaces and workstations
  • Vibration
  • Noise
  • Radiation
  • Biological agents
  • Infections

Chemical hazards include any drugs, chemicals or pesticides.

Working conditions that can be hazards include:

  • Inadequate facilities (including rest rooms)
  • Excessive working hours (e.g. night work)
  • Stressful work
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke
  • High or low workplace temperatures
  • Working alone
  • Working at heights
  • Travelling
  • Violence at work

If you find risks

You must remove, reduce or control any risks you find. If you can't, you should:

  • temporarily adjust her working conditions and/or hours of work; or, if this isn't possible
  • offer her suitable alternative work at the same rate of pay; or, if this isn't possible
  • suspend her from work on paid leave for as long as necessary to protect her and her child's health and safety.

Breastfeeding

It's for the mother to decide how long she wishes to breastfeed; returning to work doesn't mean that she has to stop. If she chooses to breastfeed at work, she should provide you with written notice ideally before she returns. You must then carry out a specific risk assessment.

Night work

New and expectant mothers can work nights, unless there is a specific work risk and her GP or midwife has given a medical certificate stating that she must not work nights. If this is the case, you must offer her suitable alternative day work on the same terms and conditions. If that isn't possible, you can suspend her from work on paid leave for as long as necessary to protect her and her child's health and safety.

Facilities

The regulations require you to provide suitable facilities for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest. Where necessary these should include somewhere for her to lie down.

The Health and Safety Executive recommends that it's good practice for employers to provide a private, healthy and safe environment for nursing mothers to express and store milk (but this isn't a legal requirement). It's not suitable to use toilets for this purpose.

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