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When it comes to managing pregnant employees, it’s important to tread carefully. Why? Because under the Equality Act 2010, it’s against the law to discriminate against an employee or treat them any less favourably because of their pregnancy or maternity status.
One step out of line and you could land yourself in hot water (replace hot with legal and water with disputes!). So, let’s take a look at 10 one-liners you should avoid saying to a pregnant employee…
1. Are you planning on having any more kids after this one?
Let them have this one first! For starters, this really isn’t any of your business. Secondly, if they respond and say yes, apply for a promotion and don’t get the job, they could assume it’s because they said they’re looking to have more kids.
Why’s this so bad? Because employees’ pregnancy and/or maternity leave status is a protected characteristic, which means you can’t discriminate, harass or victimise them because of it.
2. You’ll have to take your ante-natal appointments off as unpaid leave.
Not true. It doesn’t matter how long an employee’s been with you for, they’re always entitled to paid time off to attend ante-natal appointments.
The one catch is that the appointments must have been recommended by a registered medical practitioner, midwife or health visitor – you can ask them to provide proof if you want (except for, for the first appointment).
3. You can’t take time off work for relaxation classes.
Relaxation classes can fall under ante-natal care – providing they’ve been advised by a registered medical practitioner, midwife or health visitor. So, in this case, employees would actually be entitled to paid time off to attend.
4. I’m sorry, but you can’t change your planned maternity leave start date.
Wrong. An employee can change their planned maternity leave start date. If they want to do this though, they should give you 28 days’ notice before their new intended start date kicks in.
5. Your right to pension contributions will be put on hold during maternity leave.
Nice try. You’re still required to stick to pension contributions while an employee’s on maternity leave, and it should be based on the employee’s normal pay.
6. You know you can’t accrue holiday while on maternity leave, right?
Think again. With the exception of pay, employees are entitled to all the same contractual rights while on maternity leave – and this includes the right to accrue annual leave.
7. Your position might not be available when you come back.
If an employee returns to work after her ordinary maternity leave, she’s legally entitled to return to the job she held before she left.
This principle largely applies to additional maternity leave too, but with the exception of if there’s a justifiable reason for the job no longer being available. That doesn’t mean you can just get rid of them if their previous job no longer exists, you must offer them equivalent, alternative work.
8. While on maternity leave, you have to come in and show your face once a month.
We know everyone likes to get their money’s worth – but no. Employees can come into work for up to 10 ‘keeping in touch’ days if they wish, but they are under no obligation to.
9. I don’t think you should be doing that in your condition.
Don’t presume that because an employee’s pregnant they’re incapable of doing things. As always, you should carry out an expectant mothers risk assessment upon finding out an employee’s pregnant (and review it every three months).
If there are tasks pregnant employees shouldn’t be doing, this’ll pick them up. Outside of this though, don’t go overboard. If an employee’s happy and comfortable carrying out an activity, let them!
10. I guess you won’t be looking to move up the career ladder when you’re back?
Not only is this incredibly presumptuous, but in most cases, it’s categorically wrong. Asking this question could make the employee feel like they’ve got to work extra hard to prove themselves (which they shouldn’t!) or that they’re going to hit a career roadblock when they come back (which they also shouldn’t!).
If you’re worried you might be on the brink of pregnancy and/or maternity discrimination, come and chat to us. When it comes to HR & Employment Law, we’re the experts, and we can guide you through anything from employee rights to maternity pay.
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