Health at work during pregnancy - Maternity leave and pay

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 you tell them in writing that:

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

Your employer should review the risk assessment regularly.

Find out more about risk assessments for pregnant workers and new mothers from the Health and Safety Executive

Changing your work duties for your pregnancy

If your job has a health and safety risk to you and your unborn baby, your employer or 'hiring organisation' (the organisation an agency has placed you with) 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 your employer or hiring organisation might be able to remove that task, or provide someone to help so you do not have to lift heavy objects.

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

Suspension to protect your health and safety

If you are an employee and 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 are an employee 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 you are an agency worker and it's not possible to remove the risk, the hiring organisation must tell your agency.

If your agency cannot find you another suitable assignment, they must end your current assignment. If you meet the 12-week qualifying period, they must pay you for the original length of your assignment.

By law, agency workers should not be treated differently to other workers.

Find out more about your employment rights after 12 weeks

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 problems

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, your organisation's usual rules for sickness absence will apply. Check your organisation's policy to find out what these are.

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