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Pregnant or breastfeeding at work? Know your rights

Published date
No woman should be forced to choose between their job or risking their health or that of their baby.
  • Employers are failing to protect pregnant and breastfeeding women at work.
  • Every employer has a duty to pregnant workers to undertake full risk assessments and ensure safety at work.
  • Unions have fought for maternity rights to be put into law. Now they must ensure women’s voices are heard when it comes to making workplaces safer.

Trade unions have a proud history of campaigning to make workplaces safer for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Yet all too many employers still don’t know what they should be doing to improve safety or deliberately ignore their responsibilities.

That’s why the TUC and Maternity Action have issued new health and safety guidance for union representatives setting out clear, practical steps employers can take to protect pregnant and breastfeeding employees.

And we’re clear that employers are not doing enough to protect pregnant women at work.

No woman should be forced to choose between their job or risking their health or that of their baby.

So it’s time for employers to stop denying expectant and new mums work.

Minor adjustments are often all that’s needed

It’s clear that most pregnant women can continue to work without any problems or with minor adjustments.

Things like making workstations more comfortable, changing workloads and finishing times to reduce stress and making sure there are suitable rest facilities for both pregnant women and nursing mothers can make all the difference.

And while there are very real and potentially serious risks to new and expectant mothers at some workplaces, there are actually very few hazards that can’t be controlled to ensure that all pregnant women are safe.

That’s why union representatives have such a vital role to play in making workplaces safer.

So what can reps do – and what does the guidance actually say?

1. Don’t wait to make the workplace safe for new and expectant mums

Many employers wait until they’re notified before doing anything for pregnant workers.

But if an employer believes the conditions that a women is working in may be hazardous because she’s pregnant, then they were just as dangerous before the employer became aware of the pregnancy.

Many women also don’t know they’re expecting until relatively late in the pregnancy. Even if they do, there are many reasons why they may not disclose this to their employer immediately.

Any workplace that employs women of childbearing age should ensure that their general risk assessment includes any risks to new and expectant mothers.

2. Check that risk assessments are accessible and readily available to all employees

If a woman does not want to disclose her pregnancy but is concerned about a particular workplace risk, she has no way of asking her employer about it without alerting them to the fact that she is pregnant.

If the employer does not make risk assessments accessible and readily available to all employees, then the union health and safety representative can ask for copies of them and ensure workers can access them.

3. Ensure women’s voices are heard and their needs centred throughout pregnancy

All too often employers fail to properly protect pregnant women by assuming they know the health and safety risks.

But just as no two workplaces are ever the same, no two pregnancies are ever the same. So who better to tell you their needs and the risks they face than the pregnant woman herself?

The HSE and European law is clear that employers must assess the risks of specific job roles and the risks relating to an individual woman’s circumstances.

And it’s vital that employers work with and engage in open and continuous dialogue with their staff, as a woman’s health and needs may change throughout the pregnancy.

Union representatives can support members to ensure their voices and experiences are heard and centred throughout their pregnancy and beyond.

Trade unions have been instrumental in challenging employers, ensuring pregnant and breastfeeding women can remain in work supported, protected and safe.

Our latest guidance will help their work to ensure women’s voices are heard.