Employers have again been told that they are not doing enough to protect pregnant women at work.

“Pregnancy can be a stressful enough time for any woman without them having to worry about dangers at work as well”, General Secretary Frances O’Grady commented, as the TUC published new guidance aimed at helping protect new and expectant mothers.

A joint initiative by the TUC and pressure group Maternity Action, Pregnancy, breastfeeding and health and safety: A guide for workplace representatives emphasises the general duty of care that employers have under the Health and Safety at Work Act, including addressing the specific needs of new and expectant mothers.

The 2010 Equality Act also provides protection to pregnant women and those on maternity leave from discrimination, while the Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations require employers to provide suitable rest facilities for both pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Available at https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/PregnancyBreastfeedingHS.pdf, the new guidance also sets out a number of steps that employers should be taking to keep female staff safe both during and after pregnancy.

They include:

  • making workstations such as desks and checkouts more comfortable

  • changing workload or hours to reduce stress

  • varying starting and finishing times to make commuting easier

  • allowing increased breaks to visit the toilet and to drink more fluids. 

The guidance has been issued following a survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which found that 41% of expectant mothers felt there was a risk to their health or welfare at work during pregnancy. 

“We know from the women who call our advice line that too many employers are failing to take the health and safety of pregnant and breastfeeding women in the workplace seriously”, Rosalind Bragg, Director of Maternity Action, said.

As a result, she added, many women end up having to choose between risking their own health or that of their baby, going off sick, or leaving their job altogether.

Comment by Peninsula Associate Director Kate Palmer

It is important that employers know what they should do to protect the health and safety of pregnant employees.

Many business owners may often be uncertain about what steps they will need to take when they find out an employee is pregnant, especially if they run a smaller firm, and I believe this guidance can therefore serve as a helpful tool for them.

While long-standing legislation lays down what employers legally need to do, this guidance presents practical advice that can help them to explore potential options.

That said, employers should be wary that they do not fall into the trap of distancing employees from their colleagues through taking these steps, or subject them to any detriment. Pregnant employees need to feel safe and supported at work and employers who fail to do this could find themselves facing costly claims for discrimination and constructive dismissal.

Last reviewed 29 May 2019