Your rights during and after pregnancy

Read our advice on your rights as a pregnant woman, including health and safety at work, time off for antenatal appointments, and sickness during pregnancy.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Monday 7 September 2020
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Health and safety at work

It is your employer’s responsibility to carry out a risk assessment of your working conditions when you are pregnant, have recently given birth or are breastfeeding.

If carrying out your normal duties would put you or your child at risk, your employer should provide suitable alternative work for you, for which you will receive your normal rate of pay.

If doing a particular area of work (example, on-call) would put you or your child at risk and no alternative work is available to cover the part of your job, you will not be expected to continue that part of your work, and will still continue to receive your normal rate of pay.

If you are unable to carry out your on-call duties, the trust is responsible for arranging locum cover for you.

If you are unable to continue your post as a whole and it is not reasonably practicable to offer suitable alternative work, you would be suspended on full pay.

These provisions also apply if your normal duties would prevent you from successfully breastfeeding your child.

 

Going to antenatal appointments

All pregnant employees are entitled to time off for the purposes of antenatal care.

This is not restricted to medical examinations, and can include relaxation classes and parent craft classes, as long as these are advised by a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered health visitor.

You should continue to receive their normal pay during the period of time off.

It is unlawful for an employer to dismiss you, or select you for redundancy in preference to other comparable employees because you have sought to assert your statutory right to time off for antenatal care.

 

If you are unwell

NHS-employed doctors

If you are off sick with a pregnancy-related illness during the last four weeks before the expected week of childbirth:

  • maternity leave will normally start at the beginning of the fourth week before the expected week of childbirth
  • or the beginning of the next week after you last worked
  • whichever is the later. 


Absence prior to the last four weeks before the expected week of childbirth will be treated as normal sick leave if:

  • it is supported by a medical statement of incapacity for work
  • or a self certificate.

Odd days of pregnancy-related illness during this period may be disregarded if you wish to continue working until the maternity leave start date previously notified to the employer.

Where sickness absence is unrelated to pregnancy, the normal sickness provisions will apply up until the date notified for the start of maternity leave.

Where illness occurs following the date you were due to return to work, normal sick leave provisions will apply as necessary.

Doctors not covered by the NHS scheme

If you are sick with an illness that is not pregnancy-related, the normal sickness provisions will apply up until the date notified for the start of your maternity leave.

Where the illness is:

  1. pregnancy-related and
  2. occurs after the beginning of the fourth week before the expected week of childbirth.

Statutory maternity pay or the maternity absence will start automatically on the day after the first day you are absent from work.

Odd days of pregnancy-related illness may be disregarded at your employer’s discretion.

 

If something happens to your baby

Premature birth

If your baby is born prematurely, you are entitled to the same amount of maternity leave and pay as if your baby was born at full term.

If the birth takes place:

  1. before the eleventh week before the estimated week of childbirth
  2. and you worked during the actual week of childbirth.

maternity leave will start on the first day of your absence.

If your baby is born:

  1. before the eleventh week before the estimated week of childbirth
  2. and you have been absent from work on certified sickness absence during the actual week of childbirth.

maternity leave will start the day after the day of birth.

Where your baby is born:

  1. before the eleventh week before the estimated week of childbirth
  2. and in hospital.

you may split your maternity leave entitlement. This means you could take a minimum period of two weeks’ leave immediately after childbirth and the rest of the leave following your baby’s discharge from hospital.

Stillbirth

If your baby is stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy, you are entitled to the same amount of maternity leave and pay.

Miscarriage

If you miscarry before the 25th week of pregnancy, normal sick leave provisions will apply as needed.

 

Starting maternity leave

Maternity leave may begin at any time between the 11th week before the expected week of childbirth and the expected week of childbirth, provided that you give the required notice.

If you wish to return to work before your return date then you need to give 28 days’ notice. There is no requirement to give notice where you intend to return to work at the end of the full maternity leave period.

 

Protection against detriment

You must not be subjected to unfair treatment because you:

  • are pregnant
  • have given birth
  • have taken, or sought to take, ordinary or additional maternity leave
  • have taken, or sought to take, any of the benefits of ordinary maternity leave
  • do not return to work at the end of your leave in circumstances where your employer gives you insufficient or no notice of when it should end, and you reasonably believe it has not ended and subsequently return late
  • an employer gives less than 28 days’ notice of the date maternity leave ends and it is not reasonably practicable for you to return on that date and you return on a later date
  • you have been suspended from work for health and safety reasons connected with your maternity.

This protection applies regardless of length of service.

It is automatically unlawful for an employer to dismiss you, or select you for redundancy in preference to other comparable employees for reasons connected with:

  • your pregnancy
  • childbirth
  • suspension on health and safety grounds
  • taking or seeking to take ordinary or additional maternity leave
  • taking or seeking to take any of the benefits of ordinary maternity leave
  • not returning to work at the end of maternity leave in circumstances where the employer gives insufficient or no notice of when it should end.

It is also unlawful for an employee to dismiss you if

  • you do not return to work on time because the employer has not properly notified you of the date maternity leave ends,
  • and you reasonably believes it has not ended,
  • or you have been given less than 28 days’ notice of the date it ends and it is not reasonably practicable for you to return on that date.

There is no minimum service requirement to claim for unfair dismissal for an automatically unfair reason.

Regardless of your length of service, you have a right to an accurate written statement of the reasons for dismissal, and do not have to request one.

If your employer fails to provide you with such a statement, it is within your right to claim for unlawful discrimination on grounds of sex or marriage.

These rights also apply to doctors covered by the NHS Scheme.

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