On a contract and pregnant: ask the expert

I am a contractor i.e. I am self-employed with a limited company and 7 months into a 12-month contract for my client and I am 2 months pregnant. What are my rights with the client I am working for?  If I tell them I am pregnant could they end my contract early because, for example, I can’t provide the service I have agreed to e.g. because I need time off for antenatal appointments or because I am too tired to work late etc? I’ve already upset them because I don’t want to risk flying to New York and had to tell them it’s because of a private medical reason. They are a very demanding company and seem happy to terminate people’s contracts for the slightest problem that occurs. Obviously I don’t want to be pregnant and looking for work!

There are significant provisions within employment law to protect the employment rights of pregnant women ensuring that they are not unfairly discriminated against within the workplace as a consequence of their pregnancy.

Your employment status is key here, however. If you are self-employed there is limited protection for you in these circumstances as you are effectively your own boss. However, if your contract with this client states that you are obliged to provide the work personally and cannot sub contract the work, you may still be protected against discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

It is worth checking whether you could be classed as an ‘employee’.  Many workers who have been referred to as ‘self-employed’ or ‘contractors’ within contractual agreements have been held by the Courts and Tribunals to be ‘employees’ and therefore, have been entitled to greater legal rights and protection.

Clarifying your true employment classification is particularly pertinent in respect of pregnancy and maternity leave.  Statutory maternity leave for example, can only be taken by ‘employees’ so you would not qualify for this nor will you be paid for the time taken to attend these appointments if your status is rightly classified as ‘self-employed’.

How your employment status is classified is determined by a number of factors which includes:

– Whether or not your day to day work is controlled by the company you are working for

– Whether you are integrated into its business

– Whether you work set hours

– Whether you can sub-contract or send a substitute to complete the work

– Whether your client is obliged to provide you with work

– Whether you are obliged to accept the work they offer you

If you are truly ‘self-employed’ you will not be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay from your client in the event that your contract is extended beyond the current 12 month term. You may however, qualify for up to 39 weeks’ Maternity Allowance which is a social security benefit paid by Jobcentre Plus so it is worth investigating this.

I would recommend seeking specialist legal advice to review the details of your current agreement with your client before informing them of your pregnancy.

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