09 September 2021

What you need to know about… Pregnancy and employment

Employers have a duty of care to all of their employees to protect their wellbeing and avoid harm to their physical and mental health while working. However, employers are legally required to take extra precautions for pregnant employees. Here’s what you need to know.

Protecting pregnant employees

HSE expects all employers to carry out assessments for their employees so that any risk associated with their job or work environment can be mitigated. However, there are special considerations for pregnant employees, and an employer must assess these risks as soon as an employee informs them of their pregnancy.

Risks that particularly affect pregnant employees and their babies can include:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Long working hours
  • Exposure to certain substances
  • Temperature extremes
  • Work-based stress
  • Standing or sitting for prolonged periods

If it is not possible to adjust working requirements, conditions, and hours to remove risk, then an employer has two options:

  1. Find alternative work for the employee — this could mean temporarily placing the individual into another role. It’s important to note however that if an employer chooses this option, they cannot legally alter the individual’s terms and conditions, including their pay.
  2. Place the employee on full-paid suspension for as long as needed to protect the health and safety of them and their child.

After giving birth and returning to work these protections must remain as long as; it’s within 26 weeks of the baby being born or as long as they are breastfeeding.

Maternity leave

Employees (including some forms of agency staff) are entitled to statutory maternity leave providing; they work for their employer in the 15th week before the baby is due, and they have worked for them for at least 26 weeks before that. This means someone with a due date of the 1st of January 2022 would need to have started working for their employer on or before the 2nd of April 2021 and they would need to keep working for them until at least the 18th of September. It doesn’t matter if an employee resigns, is fired, or is made redundant after this date they are still entitled to statutory maternity leave.

To be eligible for statutory maternity leave an individual must:

  • Earn on average at least £120p/w (If they’ve been furloughed their average pay is worked out from what their regular pay would be).
  • They are legally considered an employee rather than a worker (e.g. they are not on a zero-hours contract).

To get maternity leave employees must inform their boss, at least 15 weeks before the week of the due date that:

  • They are pregnant.
  • The due date.
  • That they wish to take maternity leave.
  • When they want their leave to start and end (they can later alter these dates).

Statutory maternity leave can last for up to 52 weeks, and it is sometimes possible to share up to 50 weeks of this leave and pay under Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP).

While employees do not have to use up all of their maternity leave if they don’t want to, they are legally required to take two weeks off before returning to work immediately after giving birth (four weeks in the case of factory workers).

Paid time off for antenatal appointments

In addition to maternity leave employees are entitled to take paid time off of work to attend any appointments their doctor, nurse or midwife recommends. This could include medical appointments or parenting and relaxation classes.


Whether you’re looking for recruitment advice, or you need a helping hand locating the perfect candidate to provide maternity cover. Get in touch with Hunter Selection to find out how we can help you.