Pregnant employees benefit from certain protections to which they are legally entitled – so as an employer you have obligations once you know an employee is pregnant. In this article we look specifically the requirement to protect the health and safety of a pregnant employee and her child.

Risk assessments

You are legally required to assess workplace risks to all your employees.  Where you employ women of childbearing age this assessment must also cover risks to new and expectant mothers.  Once an employee informs you that she is pregnant you are under a duty to do all that is reasonable to remove or prevent her exposure to any significant risk that you have identified in your risk assessment.  You need to carry out another risk assessment which is personal to the pregnant employee.  In order to enable you to assess risks to her as an individual you should ask her to inform you of any specific health issues that she has which are relevant to her employment.

Examples of risks to pregnant women in the catering industry are long working hours, exposure to extremes of hot or cold, prolonged standing, morning sickness from early shifts or kitchen smells and the physical demands of manual handling.

Having identified any risks you may need to alter the employee’s working hours or working conditions in order to avoid significant risk to her or her unborn child.  If this is not practical you should offer her suitable alternative employment on no less favourable terms.  If this cannot be done either, or the employee reasonably refuses your offer, then she should be suspended on full pay for as long as is necessary to protect both her and the child’s health and safety.

Avoiding discrimination claims

Remember that pregnancy is a protected characteristic under discrimination legislation.  It is unlawful for you to treat an employee unfavourably because of her pregnancy or any pregnancy related illness during the protected period.  If you dismiss someone because she is pregnant, this will be an automatically unfair dismissal.

In part 2, find out more about the requirement to give time off for antenatal care.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.