New and expectant mothers at work

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Who qualifies as a new and expectant mother?

A new and expectant mother is a woman who is pregnant or has given birth within the previous 6 months (having either delivered a live child or a still-born baby after 24 weeks of pregnancy).

What does being a new and expectant mother mean for an employee?

Being pregnant or a new mother does not generally prevent a woman from working although there may be risks in some workplaces that could affect the health and safety of the woman and/or her child. Therefore women should be encouraged to inform their managers of their pregnancy at an early stage, particularly if there are potential health and safety concerns due to the nature of their work.

Employees need to ensure that they comply with any measures identified through a risk assessment which are deemed necessary to reduce the risks to the health of the mother and/or the health of her child. They are also required to notify their line manager if they intend to return to work within six months of the birth of the baby, or if they are still breastfeeding when they return to work.

What are employers' responsibilities?

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 include regulations that protect the health and safety of employees who are, or in the future could become, new and expectant mothers.

Employers should undertake an initial pregnancy risk assessment (in discussion with the employee) to identify any hazards that may apply to employees (see below for templates and guidance).

Where particular risks have been identified (e.g. regarding exposure to toxic substances, substantial manual handling, or work with radiation, etc.), consideration needs to be given to appropriate control measures. Control measures may involve making temporary changes to an individual's job or working conditions. In some cases, this may involve changes to an individual's role or an offer of alternative work. In extreme cases, where suitable safe work cannot be found, the law requires that the employee be suspended on full pay.

Where there are no risks identified, and no changes required to the role, the employer needs to ensure that the risk assessment is reviewed as the pregnancy progresses (at least in each trimester of the pregnancy, or earlier if the employee identifies changes in her health, or if changes have been made to her work role). The risk assessment will need to be reviewed if the employee returns to work within six months of the birth of the baby, or if she is still breastfeeding when she returns to work.

What help is available for employees?

The Health for Work Adviceline 0800 077 88 44 can offer advice about particular hazards in the workplace in relation to new/expectant mothers. Guidance on control measures could be discussed and explored.

You can also contact your union or health and safety representative for advice.

Sources of further information

  • The Health and Safety Executives (HSE's) guidance for new and expectant mothers can be found on the HSE website.
  • Information regarding practical aspects such as pay, time off for antenatal appointments, etc can be found on the Directgov website.
  • The TUC has a site on women and health and safety.

Resources

Risk Assessment form for new/expectant mothers - Word doc | PDF file

Guidance on hazards and control measures to consider when undertaking a pregnancy risk assessment [PDF]

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