Managing Maternity: Health and Safety in the Workplace

Health and Safety Maternity

The law says an employer must do a health and safety risk assessment for all women of child-bearing age. These include: 

  • a pregnant employee and the unborn child she is carrying
  • an employee who’s become a new mother in the last 6 months
  • an employee who’s breastfeeding

You can do a single assessment covering your whole workplace.

It could be a good idea to also:

  • do risk assessments for individual employees, especially if you know of any health risks for a particular employee
  • cover people who are not not employees, such as agency workers or the self-employed, in the assessment

Risks can include:

  • heavy lifting or carrying
  • long working hours
  • standing or sitting for long periods without suitable breaks
  • being exposed to dangerous substances
  • very high or low temperatures

Find out more about risk assessments from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Have regular health and safety discussions

Once you know an employee is pregnant, a new mother or breastfeeding, you should have regular health and safety discussions with them. 

You should consider:

  • possible risks that may occur at different stages of pregnancy
  • medical advice the employee has received
  • the type of work they do

Removing and reducing risks

You must temporarily change the employee’s working conditions or hours, if both of the following apply:

  • the risk assessment or subsequent discussions with the employee show that risks exist
  • the risks cannot be reduced or removed 

If it’s not possible to change working conditions or hours

You must offer other suitable work to the employee. This work must be both:

  • at the same rate of pay
  • on terms that do not treat the employee any less favourably 

 Jean has a factory packing job that involves lifting heavy crates of food. Jean tells their boss they’re pregnant. As heavy lifting may not be safe for Jean to do while pregnant, Jean’s boss offers Jean a temporary alternative job until they go on maternity leave. This job was one found to be safe for pregnant employees when the business did its health and safety risk assessment.  This job does involve packing but not heavy lifting. Jean’s pay will remain the same. But the job is at a location 30 minutes further away from Jean’s home.  Jean lets their boss know that this would mean extra travel time and costs. As things stand, the terms of Jean’s job are not as favourable so the business could be breaking the law. After a discussion with HR, Jean’s boss tells them that the business will pay for the extra travel. Jean’s boss also agrees to treat the extra travel time as part of Jean’s working time. This way Jean’s working day will not be any longer.  As Jean’s overall terms will now be as favourable as for Jean’s usual job, they are likely to be within the law. Jean accepts this temporary job.

If the employee does not want to do other suitable work

If the employee does not want to do the other suitable work you’ve offered, it’s a good idea to:

  • explore with them why they do not want it
  • work with them to find something else suitable 

For example, if they object because of health or safety reasons, you could involve a health and safety representative (if there is one at your workplace) to help find them appropriate work.

When you might need to suspend the employee on full pay

If the risks cannot be removed or reduced, and you cannot offer suitable other work, you must suspend the employee from work on full pay. 

The suspension must last until either:

  • their maternity leave begins
  • it’s safe for them to start work again 

You must also give the employee:

  • the outcome of the risk assessment
  • the reason why the risk could not be removed   

If they’re self-employed

If you hire someone who’s pregnant and self-employed, you’re still responsible for making sure they’re healthy and safe at work.

It’s best to discuss with them what risk assessment they need depending on the job they do.

Find out more about health and safety for self-employed people from HSE.

If they’re an agency worker

An agency worker’s time off, pay and other rights depends on their employment status.

The worker’s recruitment or employment agency is responsible for fulfilling these rights.

You should:

  • keep any information you have about their pregnancy confidential (for example, if you find out about it before their agency does)
  • check that the job is still safe for them to do, and let them and the agency know if it’s not

Need help managing maternity? Contact Beagle HR

This article is adapted from the ACAS website