What are my rights with regard to pregnancy sickness: ask the expert

I am 13 weeks pregnant and informed my manager of this  early on as I was suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, extreme vomiting. The condition continues to make me ill and I have thus requested to go from full-time to part-time and will be assessed as to my suitability for this by Occupational Health, although it is clear my manager wishes me to continue full time. As a worker on a short-term contract am I within my rights to request this? I have forwarded doctor’s evidence to HR and the GPs are supporting me. Also, according to the institution’s HR policy all employees, including contractors, are entitled to eight weeks sick leave after three months, but I am concerned that if I do take time off, even a week or two, I will be dismissed. I would be grateful for any advice as to my rights.

Firstly I’m sorry to hear of your ill health & other worries! But the situation isn’t as bad as it seems. Anyone can  request to work flexibly, although it is only a statutory right if you have been employed for 26 weeks or more & are a carer for a child or adult. However, although it seems commendable that you have offered to reduce your hours so that you aren’t taking as much sick leave, this isn’t necessary. You are entitled to 8 week’s sick leave, & assuming that you are having frequent short-term absences rather than a long period of absence, it would take a while to accrue the full 8 weeks – by which time your contract could have come to an end anyway!

In the meantime, your employer would need to follow a sickness absence management process which would involve different warning stages with periods of monitoring & review in between, & making reasonable adjustments (such as altering your hours or start/finish times to accommodate the morning sickness). Although they do have the right to terminate your contract on the grounds of capability due to ill health, they still need to follow the process to get to a dismissal, which again should take several months.

For them to dismiss you without following a due process would be tantamount to unfair dismissal, particularly as your medical evidence shows this should be a temporary condition. However, it sounds like you don’t have the length of service entitlement to make an unfair dismissal claim – but you could still possibly have a claim for indirect sex discrimination given that your illness is pregnancy related.

I would suggest that you go to HR (your line manager should be dealing with the issue with guidance from them anyway) & explain that you want to minimise the disruption & expense to the business & find a mutually agreeable resolution, preferably through reasonable adjustments, but are concerned about your job security. They should help ensure you’re treated fairly for the remainder of your contract.


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