Working During Pregnancy - The Ultimate Guide
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You're pregnant! This means nine months off work with your feet up, right? Sadly, this is not the case for most women, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you must carry on working right up until your due date.
When should I inform work?
Legally, you are obliged to let your work know that you are pregnant at least 15 weeks before your baby is due. Provided you are expecting your pregnancy to go full term (40 weeks) this means that you need to inform them before you are 25 weeks pregnant. In reality, concealing your ever-growing bump for this period of time and fending off the inevitable questions might be more hassle than it is worth. In general, it is better for you and your employer if you can let them know as early as you are comfortable with.
When you inform your boss that you are pregnant, you should also let them know when you think you will be taking maternity leave, although you may change your plans further down the line.
Many women wait until they are 12 weeks pregnant before informing either work or friends, usually because after the first trimester the risk of miscarriage is greatly reduced. However, even if you are not yet informing your friends or colleagues, it may still be beneficial to inform your employer earlier than 12 weeks. If you are suffering from morning sickness, as is common in the first trimester, it might help if they understand that you are not quite yourself. It will also mean that you can be honest about attending your first antenatal appointments and your first scan. You are entitled to unpaid leave for all of these appointments provided you have told your employer that you are pregnant. You can always ask your boss not to let any other employees know.
Depending on your type of work, there may be health and safety issues which arise when you are pregnant, in which case it is vital that you inform your employer as early as possible. As soon as your employer is informed of your pregnancy, it is their responsibility to perform a risk assessment and implement changes to your job as appropriate.
Who do I tell?
You need to inform your line manager that you are pregnant, as it is their responsibility to ensure that you are safe in your job. It is advisable to tell them before you tell your colleagues as gossip travels quickly in many working environments and your boss will appreciate hearing the news from you directly. If you would prefer for your colleagues not to know that you are pregnant (for as long as you can hide it) then tell your boss your preference. If it is possible for them to make the necessary adjustments to your job without telling others why, then they should do so.
Can I still do my job?
Most jobs, particularly office-based jobs, are safe for you to continue throughout the duration of your pregnancy. However, there are a number of jobs that cannot continue or that need to be modified in some way.
Any jobs that involve lifting or carrying are not usually safe to continue with through pregnancy. Other jobs that often need to be stopped or modified include those in which you are required to sit or stand for long periods of time; in which there are very long working hours or in which you are exposed to potentially hazardous substances or radiation. If your job involves any of these things then it is the responsibility of your employer to find you a suitable alternative within the company. If this isn't possible then you must be suspended from work on full pay.
Even regular office workers need to have their work assessed for risk during pregnancy. Your employer should make adjustments to your desk if required, by providing a chair with good lumbar support and a foot rest for example.
Another less tangible risk factor at work is stress. A certain amount of stress is quite normal in many jobs, and if you are used to stress and cope well with it then it should not be cause for concern. However, high stress levels can be dangerous during pregnancy if they cause you to feel anxious or depressed, or if they start to affect your sleep. If you think that your stress levels are impacting on your pregnancy then you must talk to your boss about your concern. If you are uncomfortable with doing this then seek advice from your HR department and from your midwife.
Time off work during pregnancy
You are entitled to paid time off for all of your antenatal care during pregnancy, but in order to do this you must have informed your employer of your pregnancy. This also applies to women who have become pregnant via IVF; although it only applies to appointments attended after the woman has become pregnant. Fathers are not legally entitled to paid time off to attend these appointments, but check your company's employee handbook as some employers have policies which recognise the involvement of dads in the pregnancy too. Speak to your boss, if you are only going to be out for an hour or two then they may be able to be flexible with you to avoid using up that valuable holiday allowance.
Your normal rights around sick leave and sick pay apply when you are pregnant. However, you must be aware that if you are off work due to a pregnancy-related illness in the last four weeks before your due date, then your employer is within their rights to make you start your maternity leave from that point - regardless of when you may have originally planned it.
Check your employee handbook
This article outlines the legal obligations for employers, but many companies have more generous policies for pregnant employees. Check on your company intranet, or contact HR for a copy of your employee handbook.
Worries about informing work
For some women, informing their boss that they are pregnant can be quite daunting. If you have concerns about discrimination then you must make sure that you understand your rights, and seek advice if you need additional support. Speak to your midwife if you do have concerns, they will be able to provide you with guidance and point you in the right direction if you need further support.