Pregnancy rights at work

Pregnant woman lying down and cradling her stomach


Congratulations on your pregnancy! There’s a lot to be aware of as a working mum-to-be, and it’s good to know what your rights are at this important time of your life. Read on for a quick guide to your pregnancy rights at work.

Employment rights for pregnant women

Many women ask ‘What rights do I have being pregnant at work?’ As a simple answer, there are four main legal pregnancy rights at work:

  • The right to fair treatment / protection against discrimination
  • Paid time off for antenatal care
  • Maternity leave
  • Maternity pay

There are also special rules around health and safety when you are pregnant.

Fair treatment at work

All workers are protected against discrimination. It’s unlawful for anyone to be dismissed or treated unfairly because of pregnancy or childbirth – in the same way as it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, sexuality or race.

It’s discriminatory for you to be treated unfairly because you have taken maternity leave or acted on any of your maternity rights at work.

Note that your employer can’t make any changes to your contract of employment without consulting you, including when you’re on maternity leave.

These rights apply whether you work full-time or part-time, or are on a term-time only, fixed-term or temporary contract or an apprenticeship. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly due to pregnancy, seek legal advice.

Time off for antenatal care

An important part of your pregnancy rights at work is your access to reasonable paid time off for ante-natal appointments. This includes the time spent travelling to an appointment and waiting.

An ante-natal appointment is any appointment you make on the advice of your doctor, midwife or health visitor. This can include parenting classes and relaxation.

Your employer cannot refuse time off for your first appointment, but for subsequent appointments you may be asked for written proof. In some cases you may be asked for a note from your doctor or midwife stating that you are pregnant.

See also: Parental rights around antenatal appointments

Maternity leave

To ensure you maintain your pregnancy rights at work, you must tell your employer about the pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week the baby is due. You must also state when you want to start your Statutory Maternity Leave and Statutory Maternity Pay.

You don’t have to take Statutory Maternity Leave. Two weeks’ maternity leave is compulsory, though, following the birth – and four weeks if you work in a factory.

Maternity leave and Statutory Maternity Pay will start automatically if you are off work for a pregnancy-related illness in the four weeks before the baby is due. This overrides any previous agreements or plans.

See also: UK Maternity pay and leave a working mums guide

Health and safety for pregnant employees

Employers have to attempt to accommodate pregnancy. When you tell your employer you’re pregnant, the organisation should assess the risks to you and your baby. These risks typically include:

  • heavy lifting or carrying
  • standing or sitting for long periods without adequate breaks
  • exposure to toxic substances
  • high or low temperatures at work
  • long working hours

Your employer should take reasonable steps to remove these risks – offering you different work tasks for example, or changing your hours.

If you think you’re at risk but your employer disagrees, talk to your health and safety representative or someone from your trade union. If the situation does not improve, speak to your doctor or the Health and Safety Executive.

Further reading

Explore for more information about redundancy rights while pregnant and on maternity leave and your rights while on statutory maternity leave.

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