FAQs about managing pregnant employees:
1. Am I allowed to ask a female in a job interview whether she is pregnant or intends to have a baby in the future?
Asking personal questions that are not relevant to the job, is not permitted. It could be seen as discriminatory if you ask questions relating to pregnancy, children and parental responsibility etc. Any questions you ask in interview, should be asked to both men and women.
2. A new employee has just announced she is pregnant. Can’t we just dismiss her?
No, unfortunately, dismissing an employee following her announcement that she is pregnant could be seen as unfair and therefore you could face an unfair dismissal claim.
If you dismiss an employee for a reason connected with pregnancy (or maternity leave or parental leave), it would be ‘automatically unfair’ and you could be liable for unfair dismissal as well as sex discrimination at an employment tribunal.
3. We are part-time pregnant employee entitled to?
She will have the same right for ordinary and additional maternity leave just like a full time employee. She also has the right to paid time off to attend appointments relating to the pregnancy as well as the right to return to her job and statutory maternity pay. Shared Parental leave is also available to her and her partner if she meets the qualifying criteria. Speak with your payroll expert to find out how this can be processed through payroll.
4. What health and safety responsibilities do I have to consider with a pregnant employee?
Following the birth of the child, employees must take a minimum of two weeks off work. You must carry out health and safety risk assessments during their pregnancy to ensure the work and their work environment don’t put them or the baby at risk of harm. If risks are identified, you are responsible for removing that risk. Suspending the employee on full pay is an option, giving the time to sort out any potential risks.
5. We’ve got a pregnant employee who seems to be permanently sick. How much time off do I have to give her off work?
If an employee is taking time off from work due to sickness and it is relating to her pregnancy, she should not be treated any different to how you would treat any other employee for a different type of sickness. You would need to follow you HR processes for managing sickness absence. So, avoid taking any unfavourable action against her during her pregnancy and whilst she is on maternity leave, on account of her illness.
Otherwise, you could be facing a claim for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal. If the employee is absent from work wholly or partly because of pregnancy, during the four weeks before the week in which the baby is due, the ordinary maternity leave period will start automatically, regardless of when the maternity leave was due to start.
6. What can I do with a pregnant employee who keeps on disappearing for maternity appointments?
Pregnant employees are entitled to time off to allow them to attend ante-natal care appointments, which can include classes relating to care of the child. You can ask for evidence of the classes or appointments. The father, partner or other parents-to-be can also request time off from work to attend up to two ante-natal appointments, but this is to likely be unpaid.
7. We need to fill the role that a pregnant employee is currently doing. Is it possible we can get a replacement?
You can advertise for maternity cover, fixed term or temporary contracts, but you need to be clear with candidates at the start about the type of contract they will be entering into.
8. We have taken away an employee’s company car while she is taking her ordinary maternity leave. She says this is not allowed. Is this correct?
Whilst an employee is on ordinary maternity leave (and additional maternity leave), they are entitled to all of their terms and conditions of employment, as they would be if they were still attending work everyday. This would be annual leave accrual, pension, healthcare, laptop, mobile phone, gym membership etc.
9. What can I do if I need to make someone redundant during pregnancy or maternity leave?
Try to avoid it as best as you can. If it’s a situation when it is a mass redundancy programme when you are able to select individuals for redundancy based on particular criteria, then it would be difficult to remove the suspicion that you have selected this employee for redundancy because she is pregnant. This could leave you open to a claim for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination.
If you find yourself in a redundancy situation, during an employee’s ordinary maternity leave or additional maternity leave, you must consider whether it is reasonably practicable to continue to employ her in her existing job. You would need to consider whether the employee on maternity leave, or some other employee, should be selected for redundancy. If you decide to select the new mother, you must offer her a suitable alternative if there is one available, or pay redundancy pay, just as with the other employees affected.
10. A new mum who has had a baby said she was coming back a month ago, but keeps on sending ‘fit notes’ into us. What can we do about this?
You would treat the new mum the same as you would treat anyone else that is off work on short or long-term sickness. Therefore, she would be entitled to statutory or occupational sick pay, annual leave accrual etc.
After 4 weeks, if the sickness continues, you may wish to follow your HR process for dealing with someone on long-term sickness and then potentially dismissing her. You would at that point be wanting to follow your dismissal procedure. You will not be able to consider any pregnancy-related illnesses from her employment record and would just need to take into consideration her current sickness level.
Another option is to agree with her that she returns to work on a different date. However, this could impact on her pay.
11. An employee wants to come back on a part-time basis and wants to make a flexible working request, but we already know this won’t work for us, what can we tell her?
She is entitled to make a flexible working request and you are required to give it some consideration. If you are not able to grant it, you are to explain to her the valid business reasons why you couldn’t grant it. This could be because it would impact on the level of customer service or that it makes it more difficult to recruit someone in the job-share etc. The fact that the job has not been done on a part-time basis before will not in itself justify refusing the employee’s request to change their working hours or pattern.
If an employee has at least 26 weeks’ service, they have the right to make a flexible working request, but this isn’t an automatic right to have it granted. Once granted this will become a permanent change to their employment contract and they can only make another request once every 12 months.
12. The new mother’s replacement has turned out to be much better. Can we keep her in the role and the new mother has another job?
The new mother is entitled to return to her original job, doing the same hours etc whilst she is taking ordinary maternity leave. After the first 6 months, she will be entering into additional maternity leave, up to 12 months and she has the right then to come back to her original job, if it’s not reasonably practicable, then you are required to offer her a suitable alternative. The replacement may be a better fit for the role, but unfortunately the new mother has these entitlements and you are required to honour them.