Your maternity leave, pay and other rights

Health at work during pregnancy

It's important to look after your health while you're pregnant. There are a number of things your employer must do to help remove any health and safety risks to you and your unborn baby at work.

Health and safety assessments

By law, your employer must have a general health and safety risk assessment for all employees. This includes considering specific risks for employees of childbearing age, for example those who could become pregnant, are pregnant and new mothers.

Specific risks to employees of childbearing age could include:

  • work-related stress
  • lifting and carrying heavy objects
  • sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • exposure to toxic chemicals and radioactive materials

Carrying out an individual risk assessment

Your employer must carry out an individual risk assessment when your circumstances change. For example, if you've told your employer in writing that:

  • you're pregnant
  • you've given birth within the last 6 months
  • you're breastfeeding

If your employer does not carry out an individual health and safety risk assessment this could be sex discrimination.

Changing your work duties for your pregnancy

If your job has a health and safety risk to you and your unborn baby, your employer must remove the risk for you.

This should include temporarily changing your job if something more suitable is available.

For example, if your job involves heavy lifting or handling dangerous chemicals, your employer might be able to move you to a desk-based job you can do in the office or at home.

The terms of your contract should not change, for example your pay needs to be the same.

If it's not possible to remove the health and safety risk to you or your unborn baby, your employer must suspend you on full pay until the risk is removed or until your maternity leave starts.

If you're suspended from work because of health and safety reasons, your employer can start your maternity leave from 4 weeks before the week your baby is due. If your baby is due in less than 4 weeks, your maternity leave will start automatically.

If you work through an agency

If the job you're doing is not suitable for health and safety reasons while you're pregnant, your agency should find you another job or give you paid time off for the length of the original assignment.

If you're having a difficult pregnancy

You should talk with your employer if you’re having difficulties in your pregnancy and it's affecting your work, for example:

  • severe morning sickness
  • pain
  • mental health issues

You could ask for a change to your working arrangements, for example:

  • different start and finish times
  • an occupational health assessment
  • time working from home
  • extra breaks for when you're feeling unwell

If you want to make more permanent changes to your job, you can make a flexible working request.

You can also get advice and support from your health and safety representative or trade union representative, if you have one.

If you're off sick

It's against the law for your employer to treat you unfairly because of any time off you need to take for your pregnancy.

If you're off work because of pregnancy-related sickness in the 4 weeks before your baby is due, by law your maternity leave and pay will start automatically the day after your first day off. If you do not want this to happen, you can talk with your employer.

If you're off sick and it's not related to your pregnancy, it's treated the same as any other sickness absence.