Is it safe to be pregnant at work?

Pregnancy is not an illness! However, according to the Health and Safety at Work Act, the employer has a duty of care. There are issues that can make this a challenge for some employers. Some women don’t feel ready to share their condition with their employers and colleagues – until it becomes difficult to conceal.

Whether there are good reasons, such as previous miscarriages, health conditions that make pregnancy higher risk, single mothers – or simply a belief that their pregnant state will alter their employers and colleagues perception of them.

So if a member of staff is pregnant and wants to keep it under wraps there’s going to be a conflict!

The HR department will say they must be notified to ensure eligibility for all maternity rights. However, the picture looks different when you look at it from the risk and safety angle.

If the employer is not informed that an employee is pregnant, it makes it impossible to carry out a risk assessment that takes into account her condition. This might include workplace stress, manual handling, appropriate seating and working areas. If the employer remains in ignorance of an employee being pregnant, they can’t fulfil their legal responsibilities.

So who is right?

All women are considered to be vulnerable during pregnancy and there is a two stage process that employers are required by law to follow:

  • Stage 1 is a generic risk assessment – relating to women of child-bearing age generally in the workplace.
  • Stage 2 is a specific risk assessment, which relates to the woman concerned and examines the particular issues that individual has. These may include health issues such as pre-eclampsia, long term existing conditions, history of miscarriages etc. – plus the work she is expected to carry out.
  • Tthe only way to ensure compliance with these requirements is to make it part of the contract of employment to inform the employer as soon as a pregnancy is known. Is this an invasion of privacy or simply common sense?

    It’s important that the wishes of the mother-to-be are treated with respect and, if she wishes to keep her situation private, any related activities should be carried out with discretion as far as is possible. However, she may have to deal with questions from colleagues if her duties change.

    A good employer will see that there must be a balance between their legal duty of care and the wishes of the mother-to-be. Nobody wants to put an unborn child at risk and the majority of employers will see this as a moral requirement, not simply a response to legislation.